Monday, July 31, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [5]


This next section purports to document the weakening of Yugoslavia's socialist economy by the IMF and other Western actors. The section starts off with this odd statement:

"During the 1990s, Yugoslavia was disparaged as a sort of mini-USSR which was taking too long to abandon communism."

Actually, during the 1990s Yugoslavia was being torn apart by war and genocide.

Despite this strange--and understandably non-footnoted (where on Earth would you get a 'source' for this assertion?)--opening, THIS section actually contains some actual facts NOT being used facetiously.

Although Johnstone is a little too laudatory towards Yugoslavia's particular brand of decentralized socialism (it was still inefficient; it did not translate into civil liberties and freedom, as communist Yugoslavia was an 'open' country only in comparison to the Warsaw Pact nations; the decentralization was largely theoretical as long as Tito held all the reins, regardless), it is true, as she claims, that the standard of living in Yugoslavia wasn't bad, especially considering how poor, rural, and underdevoped it had been.

She also notes, though with less emphasis than is probably called for, how Yugoslavia's unique non-aligned status benefitted the country and its economy during the Cold War. Its economy did indeed go through a rather sudden decline in the 80s as credit dried up; the fall of the USSR ended Yugoslavia's usefulness as a counter to Soviet influence.

All of this is true. The situation in Yugoslavia was getting dire by the end of the 1980s, after the death of Tito--the 'great oak' who let nothing grow in his shadow--robbed the nation of any centralizing or unifying figure of sufficient note. None of this, however, explains why a genocide happened. Context is not causation.

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [4]


Here Johnstone presents her portrait of Milosevic to counter the 'fictional character' of the previous section:

"What was really wrong with Milosevic is indeed closely related to what was wrong with the Serbian people as Yugoslavia began to come apart at the seams in the 1980s: they were extremely divided."

Johnstone does not go on to say that "Only Unity Saves the Serb," but the slogan of Serb nationalism echoes throughout this entire section. Johnstone does not explain why the diffusion of ethnic Serbs throughout the different republics of Yugoslavia, and the various divisions in their society (rural versus urban, political differences, etc.) are somehow more significant than, for example, the Albanian diaspora. Jews are pretty divided, too, as are the Irish, the Arabs, and the Kurds. Just to give a few examples.

Johnstone mentions Milosevic's 'ambiguity' several times in this section, the better to portray him as nothing more than just another ambitious, democratrically elected politician. She uses the fact that Milosevic's Socialist Party got more votes than the Serbian Radical Party as proof that the voters in Serbia rejected nationalism, unlike voters in Croatia, Slovenia, and Bosnia. That Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party was an ally of Milosevic, or the fact that the Serbian Socialist Party appealed to nationalist sentiment while led by Milosevic, simply doesn't figure in to her picture of the situation.

It is true that Milosevic was not a true believer in nationalism; he didn't really believe in anything but achieving and holding on to power. The issue in Yugoslavia was not the sincerity of Milosevic's nationalist beliefs, but rather the actions he took; nationalist sentiment was the source of his rise to power, and he used nationalist leaders like Seselj and Cosic until they became inconvenient the same way he used his old friend Stambolic back when it was more practical to be a dutiful Communist functionary and party member.

It is true that the Communist leadership in Yugoslavia sought to muffle and supress nationalist sentiment. Milosevic's record is clear--he kept his mouth shut in the late 1980s as the Kosovo crisis flared, so that he was the highest ranking Serbian leader who had not publicly condemned nationalist sentiment; and when he had the opportunity in 1987 at Kosovo Polje (an occassion that, unlike the facetiously tolerant 1989 speech, Johnstone pointedly ignores) to seize the moment and present himself as the leader of the Serb people (as opposed to the Republic), he did so.

Of course, years later--when the war was going badly, the Serbs were beginning to lose what they had gained, the Bosnian Serb leadershop stopped taking orders, and the US and NATO made it clear they'd finally had enough--Milosevic would ditch nationalism and even the Serb people outside of Serbia proper who'd been misfortunate enough to believe him.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [3]


This next section is essentially a page of quotes from Western politicians and pundits describing Milosevic in extreme terms: as an "extreme nationalist," "genocidal killer," "junior-league Hitler," and so on. Some of the quotes are, in my opinion, fair (Margaret Thatcher gets my respect for calling out "Milosevic's regime and the genocidal ideology that sustains it...") while other are, indeed, somewhat over the top. Vice-President Al Gore was responsible for the "junior-league Hitler" crack; as already noted, over-simplified comparisons to the Nazi did nothing to clarify the situation, to put it politely.

It would be useful to study the discrepancy between the media image of Milosevic and his regime versus the reality; Johnstone in not interested in any sober analysis of this gap, however. Her reason for collecting these negative quotes is so she can say this:

"This torrent of abuse tells us very little about Milosevic, but a great deal about the political culture of the West, which allows its opinion-makers to resort to the most primitive level of insult."

Johnstone really needs to get out of the house more often if she thinks that Wesley Clark's comment "he only listens to one thing, and that is force" is an example of "the most primitive level of insult." And given that Milosevic presided over a nation in which Vojislav Seselj could say "I hate the Croats so much that I would have liked to gouge their eyes out with a rusty spoon," I'm guessing he knew a thing or two about nasty rhetoric.

This is Johnstone, however--remember that she closed her Introduction with a ringing condemnation of the 'slander' the Serb people have suffered since the outbreak of the Yugoslav Wars. Apparantly, sticks and stones don't hurt as much as names in her world.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" Chapter One [2, continued]

Back to finish the opening section of Chapter One.

Johnstone has asked "Which one, in this particular case, is the bigger liar?" But the game is rigged--while Clinton is held accountable for his 'lie' (also a setup, since Clinton's quote wasn't a characterization of this particular Milosevic quote anyway), she does not, in turn, examine what Milosevic was, or was not, lying about. Even by the ridiculous schoolground-taunting level of "Yeah, but you lied even worse about me," Johnstone's staged rhetorical showdown falls flat.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Kosovo Polje Speech

There are various editions and translations of this speech out there--in order to defuse any accusations of bias, I chose to link to the website of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic. I hate to give these clowns any publicity, but I'm choosing them because:

a) any Balkan genocide deniers reading this can't pretend I'm using an "anti-Serb" source, and
b) it doesn't hurt to shine a light on these people from time to time.


Pro-Milosevic Website Links to Speech

The BBC translation is in two parts as a .pdf file--feel free to read it and the U.S. version.

You will notice right away that, indeed, this is not a fire-breathing, Nuremburg-rally-worthy call to bloodshed. This isn't a bad trick on Johnstone's part; a reader who is only vaguely familiar with the events in question might have expected to read the words of a Balkan Hitler, or at least a Goebbels. Again, the 'Nazi' parallels are regretable, because they are so imprecise. Hitler believed in Aryan racial superiority and the evil nature of Jewish people. Milosevic believed in whatever would help him gain, and then hold on, to power in Yugoslavia, and then Serbia.

The political, social, and economic situation in Kosovo does not warrant a mention at this point; the only thing that seems to matter is what Milosevic said that day; not the people he was speaking to, not the time or place.

One of the perceived injustices the Serb nationalists often refer to was the 1974 Constitution, which gave Kosovo and Vojvodina autonomy. There is no reason to doubt that this change weakened the power of Serbia in relation to the other republics; indeed, this was most likely the main reason the change was made. Serbia was by far the largest and most populous of the six republics, and the capitol was located there as well. The loss of two large areas--with their populations--was compounded by the fact that these two regions often voted against Serbian interests.

While this must certainly have been unpleasant for the ruling elite, it requires a serious glitch in your sense of perspective to read this tale of political maneuvering, backroom deals, and apparatchik duels as the epic struggle for survival that the radical nationalists portrayed.

Johnstone knows she's got 200-plus pags of changing the subject and moving the goals, so sometimes she just takes a breather and hopes the reader doesn't think too much about the unfounded assumptions that litter her work on the former Yugoslavia. If the reader stops to consider that in the repressive, tense, and volatile atmosphere of Kosovo, on the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo Polje, this was a provocative, loaded speech...well, then the reader has thought about such questions a lot more than Johnstone apparantly has.

Or the reader might wonder about this:

The reassertion of Belgrades control over Kosovo was important the the rising nationalist movement. In 1989 struggle over the autonomy was heating up--an important detail one might to keep in mind when Milosevic speaks of being "in Serbia" while standing in Kosovo.

Or, finally, this:

Milosevic was the President of Serbia at the time; a country with several sizable minorities even without the two million Albanaians Milosevic's state was seeking to subdue politically and culturally (not the mention the Hungarians and Romanians, for example, of Vojvodina). Yet he speaks as the leader of the Serbs. Johnstone doesn't merely ignore the inconsistency; as we have seen, she doesn't even acknowledge that to be the President of Serbia is not the same thing, literally or conceptually, as being the leader of the Serbian people 'wherever they may live.'

So Milosevic refers to Kosovo as being part of Serbia even as his police and paramilitaries are repressing and undoing Kosovar autonomy; he presents himself as a tolerant, cosmopolitan progressive while playing the part of a tribal leader; and he calls for the unification of an ethnic group across national borders. And Johnstone sees nothing nationalistic in this.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Fools' Crusade": Chapter One [2]


The first section of Chapter One, titled as above, starts by contrasting excerpts from two speeches. The first is from Bill Clinton's 1999 Memorial Day speech:

"In Kosovo, we see some parallels to World War II, for the government in Serbia, like that of Nazi Germany, rose to power in part by getting people to look down on other people of a given race and ethnicity, and to believe they had no place in their country, and even no right to live."

I'll admit right out that I wish he--and many other Western commentators--left out the 'Nazi' parallels. It's an easy, even lazy, comparison that risks overkill and also can cloud the specifics of the present with a hazy cloud of generalized, broad comparisons to the past.

Still, at leats Clinton was only comparing Serbian actions to the Nazis; as we shall see later, Johnstone holds contemporary Croatians, in particular, accountable for fascist crimes in WWII.

The second quote is Milosevic; it's from his infamous June 28, 1999 speech commemorating the 600th anniversary of the military defeat at the Field of Blackbirds:

"Never in history did Serbs alone live in Serbia. Today more than ever before, citizens of other nationalities and ethnic groups are living here. That is not a handicap for Serbia. I am sincerely convinced it is an advantage. National structure is changing in this direction in all countries in the contemporary world, especially in developed countries. More and more, and more and more successfully, citizens of different nationalitites, different faiths and races are living together. Socialism in particular, being a progressive and just democratic society, should not allow people to be divided by national or religious identity... Yugoslavia is a multinational community, and it can survive only on condition of full equality of all nations that live in it... Equal and harmonious relations amoung Yugoslav peoples are a necessary condition for the existence of Yugoslavia and for it to find its way out of the crisis and, in particular, they are a necessary condition for its economic and social prosperity."

That's a lot of quoting, but I wanted to include both excerpts as originally presented by Johnstone. The Milosevic quote certainly makes him seem like a reasonable guy; if you don't read the rest of the speech, and completely ignore the context in which the speech was given (a climate of ethnic tension, rising xenophobia, and festering violence underneath a repressive police state atmosphere, being artfully manipulated, encouraged, and exploited by Milosevic himself), you might even be inclined to think the guy got a raw deal.

I'll get to that in a moment. But first, let's consider the rhetorical use Johnstone has in store for her two, very selectively chosen, quotes.

"Here we have the contrasting words of two successful politicians, who each in his own country rose to be president with the reputation of being more clever than scrupulously truthful. Which one, in this particular case, is the biggest liar?"

See how neatly Johnstone sets this false dichotomy up? She quotes Clinton making (admittedly somewhat hyperbolic and generic) a specific historical comparison; while Milosevic is heard giving some vague, spongy paeons to multinational tolerance--within the context of Serbs tolerating other nationalities in their land, of course. And now the question isn't even the accuracy of NATO accusations against the Belgrade regime, but simply a contest between two quotes in a rigged competition.

But Johnstone isn't observant or wise enough to see the cheap shot she has just set up. Instead, we get this:

"In all simplicity, the answer has to be Clinton, becuse whether or not what Clinton says in this speech is true depends on what Milosevic said in order to rise to power."

As I have pointed out in a previous post, Milosevic ended up a prisoner in The Hague for his actions, not his words. To be fair, Johnstone does point out that this excerpt is from the oft-referenced speech that is often cited as a defining moment in Milosevic's campaign to harness nationalist sentiment and, ultimately, lead his nation into self-destructive war. Her bait-and-switch isn't a complete non-sequiter. But for all its faults, Clinton's speech does refer to this speech specifically, or even to 'speech' in general; it is not specified how the government of Serbia accomplished this deed.

Johnstone has--rather less gracefully than she most likely would wish--changed the terms of debate. The U.S. and NATO case against Milosevic was based on documented military and political actions over a number of years; Johnstone wants us to believe that it all boils down to a cynical misrepresentation of his words, particularly one infamous speech. By using a simplistic speech by Clinton to represent the far more informed body of knowledge and debate that actually informed the decision to take military action against Milosevic and his government, Johnstone surely feels she has played a strong hand.

However, there is the matter of that speech that has been so grossly misrepresented in the West. Let us take a quick break from the text and see just what cards Johnstone is holding this round.

"Fools' Crusade": Chapter One [1]


This is the title of Chapter One, where Johnstone purports to examine the "responsibility for the wars of distintegration." The title reiterates the belief that is fundamental to left revisionism--that the West was hostile to the existance of Yugoslavia, and it was Western intervention that was crucial to destroying that nation. There is very little reason to believe the latter; there is, essentially, no evidence at all for the former. If you think that gives Ms. Johnstone any pause, think again--this chapter is 50 pages long.

Here is the beginning of this chapter:

"Why Yugoslavia? How did the Serbs go from being the heroic little people who stood up to empires and Nazis in defense of freedom, to being the "new Nazis," pariahs of the Western world?"

This is a good question. It raises a couple of important issues; the oversimplification of the Yugoslav wars in the Western media, and the slanted history of Yugoslavia and the role played by Serbs and other ethnic groups in that history, particularly since World War II. Unfortunately, Johnstone doesn't seem to realize what issues it raises; instead, she apparantly means for the reader to consider this question at face value. Rather than question the grossly simplified, pro-Serb history of World War II, the Partisan resistance, the Ustasha regime, and the civil war that wracked Yugoslavia, Johnstone accepts this oft-repeated myth as gospel truth. She may scoff at the second oversimplification--that the Serbs are somehow an evil people committing Nazi-level crimes--but not because she rejects broadly-drawn caricatures of entire ethnic groups. She simply doesn't accept this particular generalization.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" part xvi


The Introduction concludes with this section.

"The purpose of this book is to provide information and analysis to dispute the belief that NATO intervention in Yugoslavia was beneficial."

That's interesting--up to this point, it seemed pretty clear Ms. Johnstone was claiming the war was unjustified. Now she's merely accusing the intervention as not being beneficial?

This requires calling attention to aspects of the Yugoslav crisis and conflicts that are either distorted or neglected in mainstream commentary.

Translation: Look forward to an obsessive focus on minor inconsistancies and nearly irrelevent historical asides.

The comes her Ezra Pound moment; a 16-line channeling of Serbian natinalism, articulated by proxy in all its paranoid, self-aggrandizing, collectivist glory. Here it is:

"The inevitable selectivity may be reproached as evidence of a "pro-Serb" bias."

I don't know about 'pro-Serb' but it certainly seems proactive. Nip it in the bud.

"Inasmuch as the dominant mainstream bias has been blatantly anti-Serb, this is unavoidable in an effort to recover a fair balance."

I almost wish I hadn't already read any of Johnstone's articles or interviews prior to encountering this book. After 13 1/2 pages of intellectual postering, the mask is about to come off.

"However, for what it is worth, I can state at the outset that I am not "for" or "against" any people as such."

Translation: I'm not a racist; it's just that all those Croatians are fascists and the Albanians are terrorists and drug dealers. Why won't they just stay in their own neighborhoods?

"All peoples have their own variants, their own ways of expressing human qualities and weaknesses."

And now the mask is completely off--Johnstone is explicity preaching the gospel of ethnic nationalism, in general race-conscious terms.

"I am "pro-Serb" only if that means that I consider the Serbs to be human beings like everybody else, neither better nor worse."

Boy howdy--when Johnstone decides to go all in, she really commits. She manages to explicity echo the persistant sense of martyrdom that infuses Serb nationalism even while implicitly speaking colletively about Serbian people.

"I have no personal connection with any party to the Yugoslav conflicts. The only thing that may have inspired a special sympathy for Serbs is the fact that they have been subjected in recent years to an altogether extraordinary campaign of racist calumny by commentators and politicians in NATO countries. The slander of an entire people is an injustice for which there is no court of appeal other than public opinion."

The stupidity and dishonesty in this quote hardly merits a response. Still, I'm a little grateful that Johnstone drops her guard like this. It makes my arguement stronger.

She closes this section--and the introduction--with the claim that the NATO intervention was a cause, not a response, to instability and violence in Kosovo; then she summarizes the chapters. And that's it.

Before I leave the Introduction behind and move on to Chapter One, I want to present one last quote, from the last paragraph:

""Because of the constant interplay of past and present events in the Balkans, I have chosen an order that is not strictly chronological."

While she most likely considers this a minor aside, it's quite telling. The stereotype of the Balkans as being an exotic, otherworldly place where ghosts of the past somehow determine the present is not unique to Johnstone. But her throwaway line about her account not being "strictly chonological" is accurate in ways she does not intend. Like most Balkan genocide revionists, Johnstone mixes the chronology of events in Yugoslavia in order to confuse issues of cause and effect, accountability, and so forth. This is bit more truthful than she realizes.

"Fools' Crusade" part xv


The penultimate section argues that the left was so depleted intellectually and politically by the 1990s that it no longer had a credible economic alternative to neoliberal capitalism, so leftists settled for softening the edges of the new globalization.

"The adversary was no longer social injustice caused by unchecked economic power, but evil caused by bad people who adopted wrong ideas. The catch was that this approach, applied to foreign countries, can all too easily be used to justify intervention, leading back to imperialism at its most aggressive."

Lots of broad generalization there, but notice how she shifts the arguement from being about actions to 'ideas'. Lord knows there were plenty of 'bad ideas' floating around Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but NATO didn't bomb Belgrade because of a Dobrica Cosic speech.

I'll need to quote at length here:

"The exclusive focus on moral and humanitarian issues, with an emphasis on victims, was fostered by a certain privitization of progressive activism during the last quarter of the twentieth century. As political parties and mass movements declined, single-issue movements grew. These in turn engendered non-governmental organizations (NGOs) taking the form of small (or in some cases large) businesses using advertising to "sell" their good works to donors, whether private or public. The requirements of fund-raising favor consensual causes with immediate emotional appeal. Moreover, while NGOs may benefit from the aura of relative innocence related to being "non-governmental", all of them are by no means strictly "non-governmental". Many depend on contracts from governments. Some ostensible "NGOs" are set up by governments to intervene in the political affairs of other countries."

I felt the need to quote at length because I hope you can see the context in which Johnstone articulates a theme she frequently refers to--call it the 'cult of victimization'. She often speaks (as she does in the Borojevic interview I was reviewing before I acquired a copy of "Fools' Crusade") about what I will paraphrase as a 'cult of the victim,' where the media use emotionally laden images and narratives to shape public demand for governmental action.

After touching on this theme, she moves briskly on to the admittedly provocative point about the privitization of progressive activism. While I suspect she's switched cause for affect here, I don't want to dismiss this particular insight offhand.

The above quotes both display the same bland indifference to concerns of individual justice that permeate Johnstone's work on the former Yugoslavia. What concerns Johnstone is how the situation in Bosnia and Kosovo might have been used, manipulated, exploited, or influenced by the U.S. and its allies. What actually happened in Bosnia and Kosovo is of little concern.

"Fools' Crusade" part xiv

The section entitled "GLOBALIZATION AS U.S. HEGEMONY" ends with the observation that Yugoslavia lost its usefulness as a U.S. ally after the fall of the Soviet Union; the need for a non-aligned Socialist country vanished after Washington no longer needed it as a counter-balance to Soviet influence in the Third World.

This is well known, and acknowledged. However, the left revisionist school of thought does not accept that Yugoslavia was destroyed from within any more than they acknowledge that Yugoslavia's economic model had been propped up by favorable Western policies, and guest-worker money sent back home.

"Perhaps the potential Yugoslav "threat" was an illusion. But its distintegration settled the matter, and destroying the country provided a useful exercise for future operations."

It takes some serious chutzpah to pull this off--the belief that the U.S. and its allies set out to destroy a potential threat from Yugoslavia exists purely in the minds of left revisionists like Johnstone; that she has the audacity to put sarcastic quotes around the word 'threat' when nobody had described it as such in the first place suggests that this woman, and her fellow travellers, are beyond rationality.

"Fools' Crusade" part xiii


This section pretty much writes itself--the thrust of American foreign policy has been the same since WWII; The Soviet Union and the Communist threat were nothing but a convenient excuse for American interference in other nations; the failure in Vietnam taught the U.S. that it is easier to arm a guerilla army and destabilize a country covertly rather than install and prop up a pro-American regime overtly; the fall of the U.S.S.R. and the decline of terrorism in the 1980s worried U.S. elites who needed a new threat to act as a pretext; the solution was to tie intervention to the spread of American ideals; the people who developed these ideas often later worked for the last few Administrations; the 'new world order' calls for a weakening of national sovereignty; humanitarian intervention as a policy was a solution in search of a problem--and Kosovo finally gave its authors a chance to make it happen.

I have to pause my rather glib (that's just about what this boilerplate rehash of a section deserves) with this quote:

"The relatinship between Afghanistan in 1979 and Kosovo in 1999 is uncanny. In both cases, out in front there was the discourse on human rights, and in the background, drug traffickers, retrograde clan warlords, and even Osama bin Laden."

Well, Afghanistan and Kosovo are both mountainous areas with largely Muslim populations, so there's that. One really needs to squint--hard--and deliberately shut out the plentitude of differences, and the historical contexts, to make this parallel seem "uncanny," or front-and-center.

You also need to mix up your chronology quite a bit--something Balkan genocide revisionists are quite adept at. And lets say you DO want to focus on the parallels: Well then, Ms. Johnstone, were the Soviets the rightful rulers and/or liberators in Afghanistan, or was the Serbian police and army unjust invadors in Kosovo?

Then this:

"It is noteworthy that until the 11 September attacks, the United States had consistently chosen to ally with the most obscurantist fundamentalist Islamic fanatics, whose center is Saudi Arabia, against nationalist secular governments."

I don't know about "consistantly"--the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt might have something to say about that--but it is true that the U.S. supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan to combat the Soviets, to the detriment of the Afghan people. This was, of course, exactly the kind of realpolitik Johnstone was implicity endorsing a few pages ago.

"Islamic fundamentalism is compatible for U.S. globalization in that it cares nothing for national boundries and does not threaten to establish national governments that can serve as a progessive model of alternative development."

She wrote this, I hasten to add, after the September 11 attacks. Enough said.

"The plight of Afghan women was of no concern to the Western chamions of "human rights" so long as the enemy was the Soviet Union, whose support of the education of girls and women incurred the muderous wrath of the U.S.-backed "freedom fighters." "

There is no righting-of-past-wrongs in Johnstone's world; the present always must pay for the sins of the past. And, I would add, the plight of Afghan women was of no concern to Ms. Johnstone when she criticized the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban just a few pages ago.

"Fools' Crusade" part xii


This next section can be summed up thusly: The United States of America continued its quest for global dominance without pause after the fall of the U.S.S.R. The fall of the Soviet system was read as an endorsement of the American capitalist model. There is now no credible, powerful alternative to this model.

"Globalization has meant worldwide empowerment of the transnational private sphere, dominated by ever more powerful corporations, financial institutions, and wealthy individuals. The function of government is reduced to creating conditions favorable to private investment."

The above is not without merit; the privitization of the public sphere certainly can pose a threat to the quality of life of citizens. And the single-minded deference to 'markets' certainly degrades the value of public concerns not driven by profit.

However, Johnstone goes on to say:

"As the ability of nation-states to protect the interests of their citizens declines, the importance of citizenship diminishes in turn. The democratic process is unable to provide citizens with the protection they need to earn a decent living, stay healthy, and eduate their children. In compensation, group identities of all kinds offer the prospect of mutual assistance, protection, or at least solace to populations struggling to cope with changes beyond their control. People turn to identity groups--national, religious, "ethnic", etc.--for protection."

This is at least an intriguing theory; it would be nice if she bothered providing any evidence for it. I'll grant it this much, though--on the surface, this seems at least plausible. In some situations, this could be a point of view worth investigating.

But we are talking about Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Specifically, we are talking about Serbian nationalism. Which predates globalization, and U.S. global hegemony, by a good long time.

"Fools' Crusade" part xi


This next section of the Introduction tackles the Mother Of All Strawmen. Johnstone dismisses the idea of humanitarian intervention in the former Yugslavia by creating a ridiculously oversimplified facsimile of it. She calls it the "fictional saga of Yugoslavia in the 1990s", and it goes on for a full page. I don't feel like quoting it in its entirety; suffice it to say that she sneeringly throws in lots of hyperbolic adjectives and adverbs in order to make the humanitarian interventionist arguement appear simplistic; creating a false black-and-white dichotomy (she has already referenced the "classic Western movie" motif) that will be much easier to dismiss than a more nuanced, complex arguement would be.

Furthermore, her imagined scenario has the proponants of intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo claiming a bright, sunny happy ending--a peaceful, multi-ethnic and democratic Bosnia, and a joyously liberated Kosovo. Most of us who supported NATO and U.S. actions in the former Yugoslavia--and who called for even more robust measures much earlier--know that nothing could be further from the truth. If I believed that Bosnia today was an untroubled nation, fully healed from the scars of war and happily integrating all its constituent peoples (Bosnian Serbs are Bosnians, too), I would not have started this blog.

Johnstone, after creating this Godzilla of a strawman, dismisses it:

"Almost everything about this tale is false. Unfortunately, disproving falsehoods, especially established falsehood, is a hard task. What has been repeated over and over becomes "obviously true". "

Well, in a sense the first sentence is correct--almost everything in her paranoid fantasy IS false; the lies, however, are hers, not 'Western propaganda.'

As for her assertion that disproving falsehood is a hard task; to be literal about it--that's just wrong. The way to disprove falsehood is with facts and reason. It might be hard for a controversial or unpopular truth to challenge conventional thinking and widely held media and governmental assumptions, but that is not what Johnstone says. Here we see a key to her imperviosness to the mountains of evidence that contradict her thesis--the rest of us are so brainwashed by Western propaganda we cannot see past mere 'facts' to the real truth only a select few can discern. This cavalier disregard for first-hand reporting, eyewitness accounts, and even body counts will continue to 'inform' her thesis throughout the book.

The fact is--the reason it is so hard for Johnstone and her fellow Balkan genocide revisionists to disprove the dominant discourse on Yugoslavia is because, whatever flaws, oversimplifications, and lack of nuance that narrative might possess (and there were, and continue to be, flaws, oversimplifications, and a lack of nuance in reporting and analysis of the issue, no doubt), it is still closer to the truth than the hysterical, paranoid, myopic, anti-Western, pro-ethnic nationalism, incoherent jumble of distortion, disingenuous analysis, and outright lies Johnstone is peddling.

She follows the above quote with this fascinating bit of information:

"Very many facts challening the dominant myth have been reported by news agencies. But such reports are not the ones that major mainstream media highlight. They mostly end up in the wastebaskets of editorial rooms or deleted from computer screens."

That first sentence illustrates the usefulness of her strawman arguement--having created a pseudo-arguement for humantarian intervention in Yugoslavia that grossly oversimplified the issue, it is easy to point out that there are facts which contradict this imagined narrative. Reality is nuanced and messy--Johnstone seems to imagine that the rest of us will be stunned to learn this.

And I'm quite interested in how Johnstone knows the contents of thousands of pressroom wastebaskets, not the mention what thousands of reporters and editors are deleting from their word processors and PCs.

The section ends with Johnstone nailing at least one arm to a cross of her own imagination; the plight of the Balkan genocide denier is not an easy one. You get called lots of nasty names, and even get compared to Nazi apologists.

Poor thing. It's not easy telling the world that black is white and right is left; how dare we heap such scorn and abuse on her and her allies?

Another Blog

Special thanks to Owen--whose frequent comments consistantly improve my blog--for alerting me to this blog:


As owen pointed out in his comment alerting me to its existence, this blog takes on left-revisionism from a Marxist perspective. While I favor a full-frontal assault on Johnstone and her ilk, it is nice to see a rear-guard action. And to realize that Bosnia genocide revisionism doesn't have to be the default position of the Marxist Left.

The latest post is quite lengthy, and worthwhile.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" part x


The second section of the Introduction (title above) expands on the notion that the Kosovo War marked a new, more aggressive phase in American imperialism, aided and abetted by the collusion of left-wing governments and elites.

Johnstone revisits the period immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union when, briefly, there was talk of a "peace dividend" and widespread hopes that the world was about to become a more stable, safer, and more peaceful place. I remember that time, too, and she is right--a lot of us hoped that the U.S. and NATO would demilitarize and lead the way towards a new era of peaceful coexistence.

But while it is disappointing that things didn't work out that way, Johnstone's simple-minded belief that the continuing military hegemony maintained by the United States is solely due to American policy and design is just ridiculous. To discuss American military deployment and foregin policy in the post-Cold War world without a discussion of Islamist terrorism or seperatist violence and civil war around the world is disingenuous, to say the least. There are brutal wars going on in Western Africa and Sudan as we speak, as well as the situation in Chechnya--to name just one of many warzones in the former Soviet Union. The world is clearly still a dangerous place, and imperialist dreams of the U.S. elite cannot be held responsible for all of it.

After dismissing humanitarian intervention with another oversimplification of the matter, with another swipe at the war in Afghanistan (what Johnstone's specific opposition to the war against the Taliban is, she never explains), she goes on to quote--approvingly--from David Fromkin's Kosovo Crossing: American Ideals Meet Reality On The Balkan Battlefields. Here is the quote:

"During the Cold War, we would not have gotten ourselves involved in a dispute like the one in Kosovo. [At this point she breaks--I do not have the book so I assume, but can't be sure, that the text continues in uninterrupted in the original.] In the days when the Soviet Union contained us, power realities would have kept the U.S. from interfering. It is because we are now free to indulge in backing up our ideals and sympathies with cruise missles that we are there."

That last sentence is a snarky, cheap shot--no wonder Johnstone approves of the author and his sentiments. However, aside from that last sentence, what Fromkin is describing here is the realpolitik of Henry Kissenger and the establishment Right. I mentioned how Johnstone credited the realpolitik Right for its analysis of the war in the last post. Here she goes again.

She wraps up this section by dismissing talk of a new, altruistic approach to foreign policy. Fromkin, having given her what she was looking for with his spheres-of-influence observation, now serves a contrary purpose by giving her a reference to a new, Wilsonian approach of American foreign policy for her to sneer at.

"Fools' Crusade" part ix

Good heavens--part nine and I'm still on page 2? And this book is due back at George Mason University in two weeks; there are used copies out there. I might end up having to buy one. At least it would be used--no way in hell I'd buy a new copy and give Ms. Johnstone a penny in royalties.

I'll wrap up section one now--when we last checked in with Johnstone, she was lamenting the lack of left-of-center opposition to the Kosovo War. She dismisses any calls for humanitarian intervention thusly:

"In most Western countries, only a few drastically weakened fragments of left-wing movements and isolated individuals still remembered that humanitarian intervention, far from being the harbinger of a brave new century, was the standard pretext for all the the Western imperialist conquests of the past."

Her blanket statement about 'all' Western imperialist conquests is a typically broad statement. And Johnstone, needless to say, ignores the possibility that many people, left-wing and otherwise, failed to make the connection between intervening to stop a crime against humanity and past U.S. foreign military ventures for the simple reason that there isn't one. It will be a common tactic in the pages to come to damn the present with the past; another common tactic Johnstone shares with Serbian nationalists.

One last quote before we kiss "Turning Points" goodbye:

"On the contrary, [this comes after further dismissing presumed spinelessness and muddle-headed thinking by the Western Left] much of the most pertinent challenge came from right-wing analysts, whose minds were kept relatively clear, either by awareness of traditional realpolitik or by libertarian suspicion of official propaganda."

So there we have it--in her zeal to find ANY coherent critique of U.S. and NATO actions in Kosovo, Johnstone has embraced the realpolitik of the Kissingeresque right wing. The enemy isn't right-wing, authoritarian politics, or ethnic nationalism, or far-right anti-democratic ideology. The enemy is the United States and its NATO allies; and if the left has to join forces with a right-wing that scoffs at individual human rights issues in the interests of balancing the interests of competing states, then so be it.

While scoffing at the 'brave new world' of post-Cold War America, Johnstone has mapped out a pretty bleak dystopia of her own.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Some Quality Blogs

The best perk of working on this blog is that I've been introduced to other blogs being put out by people with passion, knowledge, and concern for the issues raised by Bosnia and other contemporary acts of genocide. When I first started writing this blog, I wondered if I would come across as a crank, angrily denouncing crimes from over a decade ago. Instead, I have discovered that there are others out there who understand that there is much unfinished business from the Yugoslav wars, and that there are many lessons still to be learned and analysis to be articulated.

I also realized that I am not only not alone, I am far from being the most articulate or informed blogger on the subject out there. While acquiring humility is never a bad thing, rarely has being humbled been such a welcome and encouraging development.

I have links to all these sites to the side, but let me give each of these sites a brief introduction:

Genocide in Bosnia

This blog by a native of Srebrenica is dedicated to the memory of those lives lost in the infamous massacre, including his own grandfather. Entries are infrequent, unfortunately, but well worth reading.

Finding Karadzic

This site is focused on the quest to bring the former leader of the Bosnian Serb government to justice. It is a quality blog with a laser-like focus on the matter at hand. Here's to hoping that someday soon this blog will be passe.

Yakima Gulag Literary Gazette

This blog isn't really about Bosnia, or genocide--frankly, it's just about whatever Yakima has on her mind at any given moment! But she has a good understanding of the issues I deal with, and has been kind enough to make several thoughtful comments in my blog from time to time. Her blog is busy, busy, busy--there seems to always be something new posted there. Check her out.

Srebrenica Genocide Blog

An excellent blog; the title is fairly self-explanatory. A very well-done blog with lots of good writing, links, and information.

Bosnia Vault

Bosnia Vault is new, and it already is impressing me. Even though I try to keep myself informed, I've already discovered a couple of stories I didn't know about through this blog.

Art Against Genocide

boo friedman is an artist (married to a film actor/producer--I need to talk to this guy when I finish my screenplay!) of diverse talents, and she has a great commitment to fighting the scourge of genocide. This is another new blog I've already learned much from.

I can't express how much I enjoy and appreciate all of the above bloggers and their works. I will keep the links to all of them on the side, and encourage anyone who stumbles across my humble little site to check out one of these others and see how its REALLY done.

It's good to know that there are intelligent, well-read, and compassionate people out there who know what is important, right, and just.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" part viii

After three straight paragraphs of almost complete sentence-by-sentence parsing, I hope the reader will trust me to occassionally summarize the contents of a section of text. Remember--I'm reading this so you don't have to.

The final paragraph of section one (entitled "Turning Points"--sorry I haven't mentioned this earlier) contrasts the Kosovo War to the first Gulf War:

"For all its dubious origins, the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq was waged against a militarized single-party dictatorship, condemned by the United Nations for invading another country. And yet, remarkably, the war against Yugoslavia aroused less public protest than the war against Iraq."

I need to be upfront and acknowlege that I was against the first Gulf War at the time, so I have a limited amount of righteousness on this issue. Still, it's amazing that Johnstone can point out that the Iraq of Saddam Hussein was what it was AND it invaded another country and STILL dismiss all that as being seemingly peripheral. But what concerns us is the parallel between that war and the wars in Yugoslavia.

There is no mention here of the different contexts of the two wars: the American public had not spent four years watching nightly broadcasts of concentration camp survivors, breadline massacres, burning mosques, reports of rape camps, interviews with refugees, etc. in Iraq or Kuwait. Of course, for Johnstone this only reinforces another point--in her mind, the public was duped into supporting what was in reality an imperial war waged on a humanitarian pretext. Her tendency to ignore solid reporting and reliable evidence in the former Yugoslavia is well documented.

However, the 'brainwashing' of the American public isn't, in this case, the real culprit. No, the reason is that the NATO war was mostly waged by left-of-center governments. This, she believes, muted any criticism from the anti-war left. You know, in the same way that the anti-war movement was so quiet and passive during Vietnam, which was mostly waged by Democratic Administrations with solidly liberal domestic credentials.

Johnstone is very, very disappointed that 'the Left'--which is synomous with 'anti-war' as far as she is concerned--failed so miserably to protest the NATO assault on "peace and justice." Her assumption is that the Left is always against war (or, it seems, any military action by the United States or the West in general) regardless of circumstance. Also, the reason I put quote marks around "peace and justice," (aside from it being a direct quote--she does use the exact phrase) is that she seems to regard the two qualities as being absolutely linked. The concept of an unjust peace seems off the table; it seems to be a given that, as far as the West or the U.S. are concerned, there can be no such thing as a just war, or a war fought towards just ends.

Yet, as we shall see in future installments, Johnstone does believe that non-Western actors (specifically Serbia, in this case) are not to be held to this same elevated standard, even if seems unaware of the double standard. War is only an absolute evil when carried out by Western powers (especially the U.S.); "peace and justice" are only synomous and inextricable when applied to the 'victims' of Western aggression.

I hope it will become evident that I am NOT downplaying the worthiness of peace OR justice as ideals or goals; in fact, I think Johnstone diminishes both by portraying peace and justice as context-free, absolute values without relation to specific situations, times, and places. Hopefully, as this ongoing critique continues, my meaning will become clearer.

"Fools' Crusade" part vii

In my last post, I quoted Johnstone's claim that the Kosovo War served mainly as a pretext so that "there was nothing to stop a U.S. president from using military force to crush every conceivable adversary." On what does she base this assertion?

We have to look at U.S. foreign policy and military actions after 1999. The U.S. military has been very busy for the past few years. There are plenty of regimes and organizations which would 'conceivably' be targeted by the Bush Administration. It wouldn't take too much of a stretch to make a bogeyman out of Kim Jong Il, for example, or the theocratic regime in Iran. We're on the record as being in a "War Against Terror," so 'conceivably' we could go after the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, Muslim seperatists in southern Thailand, maybe even the ETA--surely America has some interests in Bilbao.

And as I write this, all-out war between U.S. ally Israel and Hezbollah is wracking Lebenon; Hamas shows no sign that assuming the responsibility of governing is modifying its committment to terrorist tactics; and Syria seems to be doing everything it can to make matters worse. There are plenty of adversaries there who are quite 'conceibable.' Yet where are the American troops?

They are in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly. That the Taliban and Al Qaeda were 'conceivable' adversaries in the wake of September 11 isn't much of a stretch, really. And as for Iraq--whatever you think of the current Iraq war, the fact is that our involvement in that country predates the current Bush Administration, and even the Clinton Administration; we have been enforcing the no-fly zone and sanctions against that country since Bush I, many years prior to the Kosovo war. It would take a pretty bizarre reverse chronology to argue that somehow it took the 1999 NATO war against Yugoslavia to legitimize Saddam Hussein as an adversary 8 years prior.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" part vi

Next sentence:

International law was circumvented in the name of an alleged higher moral imperative."

Having made a couple of somewhat reasonable points, Johnstone is now working her way back to the fringes of rationality and away from an acquaintance with facts and reality. I love that "alleged." It's the first glimpse of what is going to be the big story in Johnstone's alternative universe--that there was no genocide against the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo or the Muslims of Bosnia, and they were a bunch of unreconstructed fascists and Islamic fundamentalists who had it coming anyway.

But the matter at hand (and no, I will not continue this sentence-by-sentence account indefinitely) awaits--what, the breathless reader might inquire, might be the result of this earth-shattering break with precedent by NATO?

"A precedent was set. When the United States subsequently arrogated the right to bomb and invade Afghanistan on moral grounds, its NATO allies could only meekly offer to tag along. In a world with no more legal barriers to might proclaiming itself right, there was nothing to stop a U.S. president from using military force to crush every conceivable adversary."

You heard it here first--without the the precedent of the NATO war against a leader who had plunged a European nation into several wars marked by systematic military actions against civilians, the world would not have otherwise approved of American military action against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the immediate wake of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Had NATO not taken military action against the paramilitary forces of the government held prmarily responsible for the first European war in half a century, the world would not have accepted military action against Osama bin Ladin.

Diana Johnstone--what color is the sky in your world?

"Fools' Crusade" part v

After casually damning the current generation of Germans for the sins of their grandparents, arguably the most jarring of the parade of unsupported assertions so far, Johnstone pulls a fast one and comes dangerously close to making a sensible observation:

"For the first time, NATO abandoned its defensive posture and attacked a country that posed no threat to its member states, outside the NATO treaty area, and without seeking UN Security Council authorization."

The Kosovo War was the first time NATO had actually seen military action, and it certainly was not a defensive war. Given that the situtation in Kosovo, and its effects on Macedonia, were much an immediate concern of Greece might counter the arguement that no threat was being posed to a member state, but that admittedly would be stretching things a bit. So I'll grant this point.

However, NATO is a European military alliance; the wars in Yugoslavia were--or should have been--a European concern. The European Union lacked the military muscle to make viable threats against the Milosevic regime. The violent destruction of Yugoslavia was the first open war in Europe since World War II; one reason this was the first time NATO had taken military action was because it was the first opportunity to do so.

As for seeking authorization from the United Nations, this is also a valid point. Perhaps if Johnstone had even a fraction as much outrage at Belgrades actions against UN member states Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina, her concern might seem less cyncial and opportunistic.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" part iv

The third paragraph begins:

"The bombing of Yugoslavia marked a turning point in the expansion of U.S. military hegemony. For the first time, a European country was subjected to the type of U.S. intervention usually reserved for Central America."

Given that the history of U.S. involvement in Central America is not something our nation should feel particularly proud of, this is potentially a damning charge. Outside of military intervention, however, one strains to see the parallels which Johnstone might be drawing here. Where were the right-wing death paramilitaries in Bosnia? Which act of genocide was the U.S. 'ostensibly' (I'll pull a "Johnstone" and use quote marks for no good reason) claiming to prevent in, say, Nicaragua?

Oh, right--there are no real parallels. It's just convenient to bring up past foreign policy blunders and atrocities in order to slime any contemporary interventions. Like all left revisionists on the subject of Bosnia, Johnstone prefers to use as broad a brush as possible.

In the same paragraph, next sentence, Johnstone really pulls out the stops. If we're going to live by the creed of collective identity and collective guilt, why not go to quintessential example? I know we're talking about Yugoslavia in the 1990's, but wouldn't it be great if, like a never-made fourth Indiana Jones movie, we could cast Nazis as the bad guys?

Well guess what--we can! Check out sentence three:

"It also marked the end of Germany's postwar inhibition about foreign military intervention, and saw Germans returning to the scene of Nazi crimes with a clear conscience."

Read that sentence again, very carefully. If you apply any honest analysis to this rather bland statement, you should come up with a few questions.

Such as: Given what we know about current German public opinion regarding the war in Iraq, as well as the relations between the recently departed Schroeder government and the Bush Administration, how credible is this stark claim of renewed German militarism?

Or: How much actual military intervention by Germany did we see in the former Yugoslavia?

And this: Why shouldn't modern Germans return to the scenes of Nazi crimes with a clear conscience?

Johnstone choice of words here is crucial, and telling. In 1991, it had been 46 years since the end of WWII. The Nazi generation was already old; the vast majority of Germany's population were either children during the war or were born afterwords. Certainly Germany's history weighs on its citizens even today. World War II and the Holocaust still cast a long shadow over the world, and it would be nearly impossible for any German not to grapple with their nations heavy historical burden from that period.

Such a troubling legacy most certainly could--and probably should--have a profound effect on a society, and would inform and influence contemporary decisions and actions. A sober, reflective, historically aware German public would most likely feel a strong sense of obligation; both to acknowledge a horrible legacy, and to engage the outside world in a responsible, respectful manner.

But obligation is not guilt. Germans today cannot be held repsonsible for the actions of previous generations. It is no accident that Johnstone has framed the issue this way--notice that it is not 'the German government' or 'the German military' which is returning to the scene; "Germans" were returning to the scene of their ancestors crimes. Germans who, apparantly, need to feel personally guilty for crimes committed, most often, before they were born.

Collective identity. Collective guilt. Ethnic identity stripped of citizenship. Is it any wonder that Johnstone is such an enthusiastic supporter of Serbian nationalism?
Story a few days ago on Bosnian Army soldier found guilty of war crimes against ethnic Serb civilians in and around Sarajevo:

It's significant, and positive, that he was tried by a Bosnian court in the country. This is a small, but concrete, step towards accountability by the government.

Monday, July 17, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" part iii

Having laid out her anti-globalization credentials in the first paragraph (the better to shroud her ultranationalist colors in academic garb), she uses the second to introduce the first of many strawmen. Allow me to quote:

"Apparantly, many people on the left, who would normally defend peace and justice, were fooled or confused by the claim that the "Kosovo War" was waged for purely humanitarian reasons."

Unless you get all of your news from network news broadcasts, it would hard for any real leftist to claim that he or she did not realize there were other factors--such as the legitimacy of NATO--at play in the Clinton Administrations actions. For that matter, even someone who only received their information from mainstream broadcasters (forget even the depth of analysis that a 3-page TIME Magazine article might provide) surely was aware that there were concerns being voiced about stability in the Balkans. And after four years of war in Croatia and Bosnia, the general public--let alone your run-of-the-mill leftist, who might be presumed (just like a self-described 'rightist' or liberal, or conservative, or anyone else who goes to the trouble of professing a political alignment)--could be forgiven for concluding that engaging in yet another round of negotiations and empty threats against Milosevic would be a waste of time.

That was the first of two sentences in this second paragraph. Where do you think Johnstone is going with this? Well, hold tight--she's got a whopper:

"The altruistic pretentions of NATO's Kosovo war served to gain public acceptance of war as the appropriate instrument of policy."

Yeah, I don't know where she gets this, either. Johnstone might be the only person in the entire known universe who believes that the Kosovo War--which enjoyed lukewarm support at best--signaled a significant shift in the US public's attitude toward the use of force. Running for President in 2000, George W. Bush didn't decry "nation-building" because it had been an important issue in his years as Texas Governor. He did it because he knew the public didn't like the idea of being "the World's Policeman." Whatever else you want to say about the man, I'm guessing Karl Rove reads the American public a little better than Johnstone does.

Maybe there were subliminal messages in the war we mere mortals aren't aware of? Notice she says "the" appropriate instrument. Notice that she doesn't specify any particular kind of policy. Where she gets this hyperbolic bit of insight, I have no idea.

But that second sentence was merely the set-up. Here's the real head-turner:

"This opened the way for the United States, in the wake of 11 September, 2001, to attack Afghanistan as the opening phase of a new, long-term "war against terrorism."

It's not clear whether or not Johnstone considers the Kosovo war a deliberate prelude to later military actions (two years before 9/11), or whether she thinks she's explaining a process that led, inevitably, to the decision to invade Afghanistan. She does believe they were linked, however. She will later explain this connection as best she can--better, anyway, than her non-attempt to explain why the American public, in the wake of Taliban support for Al Qaeda, would not have supported the invasion of Afghanistan without the Kosovo war having first innoculated them.

People, we're still on page one. There are 269 pages of this lunacy.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" part ii

The Introduction to Fools' Crusade by Diana Johnstone begins with a parallel between the Kosovo War and the anti-globalization protests in Seattle; two events from 1999 which occured a hemisphere apart.

(She puts quotation marks around globalization in her text; Johnstone puts quotation marks around just about everything, actually; reality, including 8,000 murdered civilians, is just another "construct" in her world).

You and I might not see the connection--I will try very hard not to dismiss Johnstone's claims out of hand, at least when she is not lying or playing fast and loose with "facts". Globalization is a tricky concept which can mean different things to different people. It is often, if not usually, a term of derision as well.

The increasing economic interdependence of nations, and the concurrent growth of international trade, business, and financial organzations and entities are certainly crucial to understanding globalization. Objection to this process is that it undermines the ability of governments to protect their own population--poor, weak nations are theoretically forced into joining larger economic units, driving wages down and weakening labor rights, safety regulations, and environmental regulations. Commentators often speak of a "race to the bottom," a more and more formally well-paying jobs are outsourced and manufacturing jobs are moved from indutrialized nations to poorer countries with cheaper labor.

These are serious concerns, whether or not one agrees with the anti-globalization movement, and it is not hard to understand why the movement has gained political strength throughout much of Latin America, where economic insecurity and a history of Yankee indifference, interference, and intervention feed resentment.

However, Johnstone is not concerned about this aspect of globalization. Mexican farmers forced to leave their villages and give up their way of life in order to work at maquiladoras are not her concern. What bothers Johnstone about globalization is the threat it poses to the concept of sovereignty; which I'll roughly define as the ability of a country to control what goes on inside its borders. Defending the sovereignty of small nations against multinational corporations and the big bad United States might sound like a righteous, David-versus-Goliath stance. But that is not what is going on here. As we will see, Johnstone's concept of sovereignty is wrapped up in her conception of collectivism in its most tribal form.

Friday, July 14, 2006

"Fools' Crusade" by Diana Johnstone

The introduction to "Fool's Crusade" betrays the cards Johnstone is holding--unreconstructed far-Left diatribes against a perceived monolithic West; a selective reading of current history; a quest to find sinister subtexts in every Western action while simultaneously accepting statements by Milosevic and company at face value; a sinister and borderline fascist embrace of collective identity and generational guilt, and the parallel rejection of a notion of individual responsibility; the creation of grossly simplified strawman with which to do battle; a blurring (when not outright ignoring) the distinction between the admittedly oftentimes simplistic, binary rhetoric coming from the Western media and commentators, and the actions of Western governments and trans-national organizations; and, most insidiously, a disingenuous concern for abstract (to put it kindly) issues of legality and sovereignty to mask out-and-out propagandizing for Serbian ultra-nationalism.

That's a long list, and it might not be exhaustive. The reason I find the final example most troubling is that some of the issues Johnstone hides behind are, on the face of it, reasonable objections. I could say the same for some others as well--there is no doubt that Western media coverage of the Bosnian war tended to be grossly over-simplified. The logic of 'ethnic war' was accepted by many in the West; the Serbs were simply portrayed as the ethnic group at fault. While this may have comprimised efforts to craft sensible policies at the time, and muddies the waters at present while the definitive history of the war has yet to be written, most sensible people realize that news coverage is not history.

The last item in the above list is troubling because pieces of Johnstone's argument can sound reasonable and even revelatory to someone predisposed to dismiss American/Western actions and rhetoric. And I don't want to suggest that the establishment media have never supported the actions of the military/political elite by following an accepted 'script.' It happens. And, as we shall see, Johnstone does sometimes stumble across important issues and provocative questions. Unfortunately, she uses them to deflect attention and change the subject.

In this book, the specific and concrete give way to the theoretical and the vague. Real people, places, and events, become transformed into quotation-marked concepts, mere props. Or perhaps, merely pieces of evidence in a trial where flesh-and-blood victims of specific crimes must prove their innocence, while the courtroom is turned over to lawyers who argue theoretical cases based on intellectualized possibilities even as the trial at hand goes on.

Her fellow genocide denier, Edward S. Herman (the guy who thought the Khmer Rouge got a bum deal, for the record), praises the book in a blurb opposite the title page. He calls it: (I am quoting directly here) "a "must" book for progressives, and for anybody who wants to cut through the remarkable structure of disinformation regarding the Kosovo war and its background that has been institutionalized in the West." He then goes on to praise her for working "with a critical framework that does not take NATO-friendly assumptions, pre-fabricated history, and filtered and decontextualized evidence as premises and truth (or the whole truth)." (Pot, meet kettle). "The result is an excitingly original and powerful book and an essential corrective to a remarkable body of propaganda that dominates thought in the Free World."

Well, that's some heady praise indeed! What important work has Johnstone accomplished, you might ask? Is every ready to enter to the brave new world of genocide denial? Fasten your seatbelts, have a stiff drink, and be prepared to feel the urge to break things and curse loudly--here we go!
Well, I've been meaning to get back to the Borogevic/Johnstone interview, but I've been rather busy lately; and then I got a copy of "Fool's Crusade," Johnstone's book that this interview references several times.

(I should note--I acquired a copy through inter-library loan--no chance in hell I'd spend money on it. Unfortunately, this means I can only keep it for three weeks).

So I'm taking a break from discussing the interview in order to have a first-hand look at the book itself. Which isn't easy--it's maddening reading, and I doubt I'll be able to stomach the entire thing. Life's too short to read everything I WANT to read, let alone slog through 200-plus pages of heavily-footnoted dissembling. In the interests of fairness, however, I will tackle as much of it as free time allows.

I've already read the introduction, which I'll cover in the next post. Stay tuned. I don't want to have to enter the twisted world of Bosnia revisionism alone.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Last night my family and I had the pleasure to attend a concert of Sephardic Jewish music at the Embassy of Bosnia and Hercegovina in Washington, DC. The concert featured Sarajevo-born Flory Jagoda. Here is a link to a story about her:

Short story about Flory Jagoda

Also, she received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Here is an interview from the NEA website:

Interview with Flory Jagoda after receiving National Heritage Fellowship from the NEA

It was a packed house and a wonderful concert.

Afterwords, we stayed around for drinks and some delicious food. I ended up in conversation with a Bosnian man and his American wife, and naturally I was asked "What is your connection to Bosnia"? Whenever I go to the embassy I generally encounter this question at least once (naturally enough, of course). And it's a tough question to answer. Especially because the people who are asking me generally have strong reasons to be there--they are either Bosnian themselves, or are Americans who are doing or have done substantive, important work either in Bosnia (as the American woman had done from 1996-2001; I believe for UNESCO, although I could be wrong) or in government positions here in Washington. And last night, once again, I found myself attempting to articulate my reasons for taking such an active interest in Bosnia and its history some ten years after the war has ended. As always, the question was posed by people infinitely more familiar and involved with Bosnia than I can claim. Not for the first time, I felt a bit silly and presumptuous.

After four months, I still haven't articulated a unifying theme for this blog. Last night, listening to an American citizen (Jagoda has lived in the US--married to an American--since after World War II) who was born a Bosnian Jew, the descendent of Ladino-speaking Sephardic settlers from Iberia, I might have opted to answer the question by gesturing towards the featured performer. She was a Bosnian by birth, despite being Jewish, despite the fact that her ancestors came from Spain. Now she is an American, even though she treasures her Bosnian and Judaic heritage.

Speaking Ladino in Bosnia, speaking Bosnian in the capitol of the United States, Flory Jagoda is a living example of the American ideal of citizenship unhindered by blood, creed, or nationality. Just as in Bosnia, there were--and remain--Jews, Muslims, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians. All Bosnian. Despite the best efforts of petty nationalists to drag the country back to our tribal past, there is still a Bosnia.

A little over a decade ago, a war was fought in the former Yugoslavia between the forces of secularism, individual rights, and cultural, ethnic and religious inclusion on one side; tribal loyalties, collective identity, and noxious notions of 'purity'--ethnic or otherwise--on the other. If you are an American and believe in the ideal and values this country stands for, you cannot help knowing which side of that fight is your own.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The first paragraph served to reinforce the notion of collective 'ethnic' identity and the accompanying belief in group victimization that defines the modern ideology of Serbian ultranationalism. Then, naturally, come the denials that 'the Serbs' have done any wrong at all. Now the stage is set for Johnstone's two-pronged attack on reality: The Serbs are victims of a vast Western plot in the name of 'globalization'; and they are innocent of any guilt in the Yugoslav Wars to boot.

In the second paragraph, the terms of the following interview are laid out. Johnstone's pseudo-objective thesis is cited as a defense of Serbian innocence even as she disingenuously applies her thesis to the Serbian example. Self-referential logic taken to an extreme.

First sentence:

In her book "Fool's Crusade", Diana Johnstone says that, "Unfortunately, disproving falsehood, especially established falsehood, is a hard task. What has been repeated over and over becomes ‘obviously true'…The collective fiction creates its own collective defense.

Divorced from any context, this is not necessarily an objectionable statement from Johnstone. Any reasonable person should be willing to concede that the conventional wisdom can be wrong, and that a misinformed consensus can be a dangerous thing. However, Johnstone is not operating in a vacuum. As we shall see, she speaks in the language of a universal defense of an abstract intellectual position in order to bolster a dishonest, particular viewpoint--namely, that the genocide in Bosnia is a fiction authored by an imperialist Western elite.

This establishes the pattern of Johnstone's approach--while she has, from the beginning, firmly cast her lot in with the Milosevic regime and the Serbian nationalist rebellion in Pale, she does not explicitly present her views as political in nature. Rather, she poses as a disinterested academic who is concerned about the broader implications of the demonization of the Serbian people and the Yugoslav state along with her sympathy for the misunderstood victims of globalization and imperialism. This gives her pandering a patina of intellectual integrity even while obfuscating the real issue--the political and military responsibility for genocide in Bosnia.
OK, let's look at the rest of the first paragraph of the Borojevic-Johnstone interview. (See URL in previous entry).

Second sentence:

Although the judges at the ICJ must first decide whether they have the jurisdiction to rule in the case, the mainstream media and the western propaganda machine do not want to leave anything to chance.

As I mentioned previously, the question of whether or not the ICJ has the jurisdiction to handle this lawsuit certainly has merit. One country suing another on charges of genocide is a new precedent, and there could be a legitimate discussion about this issue. It will come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with Johnstone's work or that an intellectually honest considering of the issues is the last thing being presented.

The second half of this sentence announces in no uncertain terms that we are headed straight to the world of paranoid conspiracies and the cult of victimization; a pitch aimed squarely at the retrograde Left, made up of people who never met a 'victim' of American/NATO/Western aggression they didn't love. I'm curious as to who is behind this 'western propaganda machine.' Sounds like a formidable apparatus.

And now the third, and final, sentence of this opening paragraph:

Almost everything about the Bosnian Muslims accusation against the Serbs is false.

And there you have it. Having already made the semantic/ideological shift from governments to 'ethnic' groups (it is 'the Muslims' suing 'the Serbs'), all that is left is to flat-out deny that the lawsuit has any merit whatsoever. Does Borojevic go into detail at this point, listing the specific allegations and refuting them systematically with facts and persuasion? Please. This one sentence should suffice, if one is a true believer.