Friday, September 27, 2013

Two Decades On, the Lessons of the Bosnian War Remain Unlearned

When I started this blog several years ago, I had two goals in mind. The first was simply to apply myself to developing a better understanding of the conflict. I had followed the news at the time and had relatively strong opinions on the matter, but I had not made the effort to deepen my understanding. I regretted that, and finally after finishing my first Master's degree in 2005 I had the time to read more widely, and this blog was the tool I used to document that process and provide a framework for systemic reading. Although I am not as involved in that project as I was, I did succeed in making myself more deeply informed about the issues at stake.

The other reason was that I believed then--and now--that the tentative and too-long delayed Western intervention in the conflict was a warning to the West of how not to handle international crises in the post-Cold War world. The Bosnian War was allowed to go on too long because of misguided anti-interventionist beliefs as well as realpolitik concerns that there was nothing at stake. I believed that one way to redeem the suffering of Bosnia would be for the United States and its allies to learn from our mistakes in Bosnia.

I was under no illusions that I had any significant role to play in this process, but I imagined that I would be participating in a broader conversation, and hopefully a productive one. I hoped that as policy makers, scholars, journalists, and the general public studied the sequence of events in the former Yugoslavia, a new consensus about the limits of state sovereignty and a new understanding of the role of international justice would begin to take shape.

Unfortunately, I have concluded that there has been little, if any, progress in that regard. And today, I read this story:
Deal Represents Turn for Syria; Rebels Deflated

The Obama Administration has truly failed the people of Syria, and the cause of international justice in general. But this failure did not occur in a vacuum--the American media have been typically glib, shallow, and reactive in their reporting, giving the already intervention-averse public precious little appetite for even modest intervention in Syria. With the exception of a handful of leaders such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the Republicans were largely content to score political points by playing to the anti-interventionist, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and libertarian wings of their party. But ultimately, this is still Obama's failure. He clearly has no appetite for confronting genuine evil, and the way in which he has thrown the opposition under the bus while allowing Putin to score a significant foreign policy victory on behalf of Assad's regime will likely haunt policymakers for years to come.

I will probably continue with this blog, particularly in between semesters, but the optimisim and zest I brought to this project back in 2006 are largely gone.


Anonymous said...

Hello. Bosnia soccer team goes to world cup!

Ruby Sarah said...

Hi Kirk, I could not find another way to reach you other than via comment. My friend Mirela, a Bosnian Muslim and refugee from the war, has a chance to finish her undergraduate degree at SUNY Canton in just one semester. We are trying to spread the word so that people concerned with the fate of a young woman from BiH can consider donating to help her. Please visit our Indiegogo page at and feel free to share the campaign. Thank you! -Sarah

Sarah said...

Hi Kirk, I couldn't find a way to reach you other than via comment. My friend Mirela, a Bosnian Muslim and refugee from the war, has always been determined to complete her undergraduate education but was prevented from graduating from a corrupt Bosnian institution. She now has an opportunity to complete her undergraduate degree in just one semester at SUNY Canton, but the only barrier is money. We are trying to raise the funds through our Indiegogo campaign: Please consider sharing our campaign so that readers interested in the fate of a determined young woman from BiH can help us. Thank you! -Sarah

Anonymous said...

Kirk, the story of Syria over the past three years plus has been a grim bath of cold water for anyone who thought that there was a chance that the lessons of twenty years ago might have been learned. But all the same, it's important not to let them be forgotten.