Friday, October 19, 2007

Jimmy Carter in Bosnia--1994

In 1994, former President Jimmy Carter took it upon himself to enter into direct negotiations with the illegal Bosnian Serb Republic leadership. The embarrassing cluelessness and staggering amoralism of his words and deed during this sordid episode were concisely exposed in an editorial, written in acid, from the January 9, 1995 issue of The New Republic magazine entitled "Merry Christmas, Mr. Karadzic." That article is not available for free from their website, but it is reprinted in The Black Book of Bosnia: The Consequences of Appeasement, a great collection of writings from their pages covering the war period which collectively serve as something of a relic of mid-90 liberal interventionism (albeit a frustrated, outraged, and ultimately defeated variant).

The shame of seeing a former US President sitting at a table with the two future butchers of Srebrenica, lending his prestige and legitimacy to their vile cause, should still rankle any honorable or even merely decent American. I am sure I am not the only one among us who has ever wondered, "What does Mr. Carter think of his actions then, given the benefit of hindsight?" Knowing about Srebrenica and Zepa, knowing of the growing body of evidence that the ICTY and the OSCE have accumulated, has Mr. Carter rethought his shameful decision to elevate those thoroughly dishonest, racist thugs to the level of statesmen?

Well, thanks to the recent publication of his book Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope, we now have an answer, and it is neither uplifting nor surprising. The NR editorial described Carter's approach to negotiations thusly:

"For peace is never lasting or true when it is based on the belief that there is nothing worse than war; but that is Carter's belief. He practices "conflict resolution," a contentless approach to conflict, for which all parties in all conflicts are like all parties in all conflicts, and there are no conflicts that cannot be fairly ended by compromise."

This explains why his diplomatic venture had no lasting impact on events in Bosnia, and I suppose it at least helps us to understand why he announced at the time that his meeting with Karadzic represented "One of the rare chances to let the world know the truth." Carter can be forgiven for not knowing much about Bosnia or the Balkans; he cannot be forgiven for abdicating any sense of moral idealism in the single-minded quest for a peace agreement at any price. To say nothing of the smug self-righteousness which characterizes his self-serving account.


Carter begins his account by mentioning that in June of 1994, he was approached by New Hampshire state House speaker Chris Spiro and Serbian ambassador Milan Milutinovic, who delivered a personal message from Slobodan Milosevic himself requesting that Carter come to Belgrade to negotiate. Carter says that he declined because "I had no desire to become involved in the Balkans." Given what came later, this ranks as by far the wisest decision he ever made on the matter; pity he didn't stick with it.

Unfortunately, though, seven months later Radovan Karadzic offered Carter a second chance to stick his nose into a situation he had no interest in understanding, and this time he accepted the invitation:

"Early in December 1994, I received a handwritten letter from the Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, requesting I meet with a delegation to explore ways for the Serbs to accept the latest recommendations of the International Contact Group (United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia). I was not very familiar with the political situation in the former area of Yugoslavia, although I had welcomed Marshal Tito to the White House for a formal visit."

Note that Carter mentions that the note from Karadzic was "handwritten"; suggestive of a thoughtful, civilized gesture. Given that the prose in this account is rather clipped and perfunctory, the inclusion of this detail is clearly meant to reflect positively on the mass murderer he would soon enough be commiserating with.

More serious is the seemingly innocuous mention that he was "not very familiar" with the situation in Yugoslavia; as if any reasonably informed citizen at the time was not cogent of the daily TV broadcasts and constant print journalism on the war. How could any person who makes international diplomacy his self-appointed mission have NOT known enough about the situation in Bosnia in the winter of 1994?

He goes on to describe Karadzic as

"...a poet and a psychiatrist who was accused of holding some UN hostages and was growing increasingly independent from Slobodan Milosevic, the elected ruler of the Serbs, who also sought dominion over the other provinces."

Apparently, Carter felt the need to prove he wasn't kidding when he wrote he was "not very familiar" with the situation. Karadzic was accused of "holding some UN hostages"? Well, yes, he was accused of that--along with masterminding mass murder, genocide, and the violent destruction of a sovereign nation. I don't know if the description of Milosevic as the "leader of the Serbs" is simply lazy language or if Carter unwittingly buys into the same collectivist mentality that Serbian nationalists embodied. Milosevic was the leader of Serbia, not of "the Serbs." And how interesting that Carter felt obligated to point out that Milosevic was elected. How neat--Diana Johnstone would be proud.

It gets worse--here is the next sentence:

"In April 1992, Bosnia had come to be recognized as an independent state, and Karadzic became the first president of the Bosnian Serb administration, with it capital in the mountain town of Pale."

This goes beyond whitewashing events--this amounts to a complete repudiation of reality. I have no idea what to say in response. If former President Carter really believes this, he is an idiot. If he does not believe it, then he is something much, much worse.

Carter isn't quite done paying homage to the Bosnian Serb "Administrator":

"As a Greek Orthodox Christian, he had reached out to fellow Orthodox countries and publicly stated, "The Bosnian Serbs have only two friends: God, and the Greeks." This was a fairly accurate statement at the time we received his letter."

Karadzic would no doubt be bemused to find out that he is Greek Orthodox, but other than this unconscious admission that Carter was absolutely clueless he could not have any complaints with Carter's characterizations. Carter was apparently too blinded by his own sense of moral equivalence to see this naked call for a pan-Orthodox crusade against other peoples for what it was; as for the implicit agreement with the notion that the Serbs--as their nationalist myths maintain--are a chosen people; the less said the better.

And so, Carter accepted the mission. He cleared it with the White House and the State Department. He assures the reader that Clinton encouraged his mission and wanted an immediate report afterwards. Carter gives no indication that there is something strange about the President of the most powerful country in the world taking such a passive role in events, but his lack of leadership on Bosnia was depressingly familiar by December 1994.

The details of the negotiations are not worth recounting, since Carter operated under the assumption that Karadzic was negotiating in good faith and that all the Bosnian Serbs wanted was a fair shake. Carter lists all the "concessions" he was able to win from the Bosnian Serb leader, who of course was very interested by that point in consolidating the ethnically cleansed territory his forces had won. Karadzic was trying to back the Bosnian Government into a corner, putting them on the spot so they could either accept an unjust "peace" or face international condemnation for refusing to sign. And Carter was the willing tool of this plot.

Carter then actually traveled to Bosnia after more meetings with various dignitaries, and after Karadzic appeared on CNN to repeat his promises to agree to a peace deal--Carter must not have been aware that he had made many such promises before. In Sarajevo he met briefly with Alija Izetbegovic, who "was skeptical about our mission and had some fairly harsh demands, but none that deviated substantively from the prepared text I had in my pocket." Carter did not, it seems, share the contents of that prepared text with Izetbegovic.

That was all the time he could spare for the actual President of the country; it was time to leave "war-ravaged Sarajevo" for Pale:

"Because the direct road was mined, our route was circuitous (a seventy-five minute drive to travel nine miles), through beautiful and undamaged farms, pastures, and mountain slopes reminiscent of the Alps."

Not even Michael Parenti could improve on this economical contrast between the Muslim President with his "harsh demands" and "war-ravaged" city accessible only be mined roads (mined by whom?) versus the peaceful, pristine land around the capital of the Bosnian Serb "Administration." Hey, there probably aren't very many Muslims in the pastures of the Alps, either.

Once he arrived, Carter was delighted that General Mladic and Mrs. Karadzic ("also a psychiatrist" he notes) were both in attendance. Carter mentions that he was stubborn about "substantive changes" but did allow for the inclusion of certain phrases such as "equal treatment of both sides" and "discussion of all issues." Given the context, these changes could only not be considered "substantive" if one accepts that the entire enterprise was a toxic, disingenuous fraud on behalf of ethnic cleansing from the start.

Carter insists he was able to get Karadzic to agree to drop his cease-fire demands down from the 12 months he had originally asked for to the 4 months Carter had been advised was the maximum that the Contact Group and Izetbegovic would accept. That Karadzic finally agreed to this was the only concession Carter either sought or achieved, and it wasn't his idea to begin with.

Then it was back to Sarajevo, where Carter presented the offer to Ejup Ganic (yes, he met with the Bosnian Serbs first) as essentially a take-it-or-leave-it offer. He told Ganic that he would go public and declare that the Bosnian Serbs had accepted peace and the Muslim-led government had refused.

And so Carter--or, rather, Karadzic--had the agreement. It sounded good on paper, and had it in any way reflected reality or the honest intention of the Pale regime it might have been worth the paper it was written on. And, pathetically enough, Carter still doesn't get it.

An interesting aside--on the flight out of Zagreb to Frankfort, Carter and his wife were "annoyed" when:

"...some duty-free Christmas presents were delivered to us in a Marlboro bag. I wrote Delta's CEO to complain about the airline's advertising cigarettes and urged him to ban all smoking on their flights."

Yes, the man who willingly acted as a stooge for a genocidal outlaw regime without taking the time to learn even as much about the war he was interfering in as any reasonably literate newspaper subscriber would know; the man who lacked the moral fortitude to take one hard look at the horrors being enacted all around him by the men he happily dined with; this same man took time out to write a letter protesting cigarette advertising on a bag. A bag containing free gifts. "Petty" does not convey the vacuity of such a man.

Is it any surprise that such a man still does not understand the implications of his actions? That he fails even now to grasp how wrong-headed his decision to negotiate on behalf of a tinpot fascist was? That at the end of this passage, he blames the international community for failing to meet the Bosnian Serbs halfway, letting his precious ceasefire slip away?

It is true; Carter ultimately faults the international community for continued warfare in the region; he concludes this short account by skipping ahead to Kosovo, where:

"A contingent of Albanian formed an armed force and contested control by Milosevic of portions of Yugoslavia. Although the Serbian response was at first fairly restrained, by mid 1999 hundreds had died in escalating retaliations, and more than 100,000 Kosovo Albanians were reported to have been forced from their homes."

So it wasn't just Bosnia that Carter knows little about. He does know enough to note that NATO dropped a lot of cluster bombs and toxic uranium bombs on "the Serbs," however. Which may be why he concludes with:

"It is interesting to conjecture about how many human rights atrocities, refugees, and deaths might have been avoided if our agreements and suggestions had been honored by the international community."

Mr. Karadzic thanks you, Mr. Carter.


Shaina said...

I have a great deal of respect for Carter's humanitarian work. Unfortunately, to paraphrase the 1999 UN report, Bosnia required a political solution as much as a humanitarian solution.

Katja R. said...

Carter really screwed the pooch that time and at the time, I as a reasonably informed American was appalled he went.
There are places you have to draw the line!
I hate to say it but a LOT of elected officials in the United States, (AND other countries)really need to get a damn clue when it comes to foreign policy!

Carter wasn't alone in not knowing enough about the Balkans or caring enough.

But one would have expected better of him than this sorry writing suggests.
It's no wonder he got replaced, it was like taking candy from a baby that election.

It occurs to me he was a real pigeon when it came to the Muslims because of the whole Hostage Crisis, which was on his watch after all.

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Carter shares the same religion as Radovan Karadzic. And according to Natasa Kandic, Eastern Orthodox Church is protecting Karadzic as we speak. He is hiding in one of many churches in Serbia. No wonder Carter had so much sympathy for Karadzic, his Eastern Orthodox Christian brother, who called upon eradication of Muslims Bosniaks, as can be read in my recently published article titled: "Radovan Karadzic and Srebrenica Genocide"

Shaina said...

Dan, Carter is Baptist, not Orthodox. :)

As to the causes of Carter's rather uneducated & ignorant views on Bosnia, and his approach during the war; I can only offer my own guess & opinion. And of course, it has no more validity than anyone else's guess.
I think there are some clues to be found in the passage quoted.

1. An complete lack of knowledge regarding both Bosnian history and the current situation. I find it arrogrant that Carter would go to Bosnia; without seemignly much of background synopsis on the conflict.

2. The belief that "peace" is better than any war; and that all conflicts are the same; and all can be solved with 50/50 compromise.

I think the two points can also be seen in the approach the S5 nations, in particular, France & Great Britain UN officials, who actually made & carried out the policies, and in particular Mr. Akashi took towards Bosnia. I've just finished reading Adam LeBor's account of the UN and the genocides in Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur. In the Bosnian chapter, he points out the incredible ignorance many of the officials had about Bosnia (i.e. believing Bosnia was an 'artificial' entity, believing that the Chetniks, and not the Partisans liberated Yugoslavia, that the ethnic groups of Bosnia were always "fighting one another" and other false information). The second point was an approach to diplomacy that said that all sides were equally guilty. That was extremely hesitant to get involved, they approached Mladic & Karadzic and Milosevic as "good negotiating partners" even after UN soldiers were taken hostage; and promises were made and broken; not to mention documented mass atrocities. Mark Danner, Adam LeBor, and Samantha Power, Peter Maass have all written about the UN's double standard when it came to Bosnia. The writing of Danner is available online. I'm wondering if perhaps the Akashis and Janviers had been in northern & eastern Bosnia in the spring/summer of 1992 if their approach would have been different?

Back to Carter:
Like I said before, Carter has done some very admirable humanitarian work. But, that doesn't excuse his ignorance & approach to Bosnia. Which was tainted by a combination (IMO) of ignorance, arrogrance and naivite. Unfortunately, from reading Carter's chapter it seems as if he did not know or learn much, or wanted to learn about Bosnia or the conflict-and that even today, he seems quite ignorant about Bosnia and the war he went to negotiate about.

Anonymous said...

YG, what's a real pigeon?

Anonymous said...

I was interested in reading this post but as it started with this "illegal Bosnian Serb Republic leadership", I stoped.
Back in 1995, this leadership WAS a legal one. At least, it was as legal as possible for the time and the Serbian entity in Bosnia.
If you referred "illegal" as for the republic, well, it was no more nor less illegal than the other two parts of the ex-Yugoslav republic.

On the other hand / @ shaina: I'm afraid being baptist and greek orthodox means to be Christian. Maybe for the clerics there could be a difference, for the propaganda machines too
but there's one God, the same Jesus, the same Bible - actually, I recently learned, by reading a blog written by some folks in Bosnia, that there's a crime to read the Holy Book of Christianty.

Kirk Johnson said...


In 1994 the Dayton agreement had not been signed or even negotiated; had you not "stopped reading" you would have realized I was referring to events prior to 1995.

Shaina is very aware that both Baptists and Orthodox Christians are Christians; that is very much not the point. Carter was not even aware that Serbs have their own Orthodox Church. Daniel was confusing different denominations and she was light-heartedly correcting him.

The fact that they share the same holy book didn't prevent Croat Catholic and Serb Orthodox extremists from carrying out holy wars against each other.

Your assertion that it's illegal to read the Bible in Bosnia is absolute crap; if you're coming here to disseminate baseless conspiracy theories, could you please at least include a link so I can debunk the source? Thank you.

Cristian said...

Hello again
It was obvious for me that you refered to prior than 1995.
Even then, if so, all the leaderships used to be equally legal or illegal. The action of them could be subject of legality or illegality - at least, that's how I understand. Of course, it could be a false interpretation of mine, through all the experience I gained as a journalist which covered the war (and not from the desk but down there, in Bosnia).

Regarding the reading of the Bible, I was angered by a blog posting on the Srebrenica Genocide Blog, in the entry about the Karadzic's family. It's written there: "His uncle enjoyed reading hard-core Serbian nationalist newspapers, Kurir, and of course - the Bible."
As far as I learned from my grandparents, "the tonality creates the music". On the other hand, I learned that there's an art in reporting which allows one to suggest to the reader HOW to translate a message.
Call me conspirationist but I just saw a CNN reporting from the Belgrade riots (it happend that I was in Belgrade last wednesday like accidentally I was there back in 2001 when Milosevic was transfered to Shceveningen). I saw the town that evening and I later saw the CNN coverage. If I missed something, one thing is sure: there's no Rendorszeg in Serbia, as I saw on TV Rendorzeg is the Hungarian name for Police. In Belgrade, like in Sarajevo, Tuzla or Karlovac or Knin, they are calling it Policija. So, why did they illustrated riots in Belgrade with images from Budapest?
That's another reason for angerness!

Well, maybe I was a little bit unfair with the part regarding shaina's comment. But if Carter (as you said) "was not even aware that Serbs have their own Orthodox Church" could be a big minus for someone who used to rule the greatest power on Earth and pretends to play a role in the global evolution.

And last, but not least: good point, the one with the extremists!


Cristian said...

PS: I was trying to comment on the Srebrenica Genocide Blog too; but my comment didnt't get the approval; and I'm pretty sure I didn't had an inappropiate language; but, maybe, my tonality... :)

Dragan O. said...


I think a lot of things were not understood by a lot of people and politicians who were involved in the conflict. Attrocities were commited by all parties... so don't only blame the Serbs... Example; Srebrenica was a so called demiliterized zone or save haven. This means no weapons were allowed. Nevertheless, there was a big muslim terrorist part active within Srebrenica under the lead of naser oric. These paramilitaries attacked villages around srebrenica mostly populated by serbian civilians (no soldiers). A lot, and I say a lot of Serbian Civilians (elderly, women, children, etc) were killed slaughtured and raped. Serbians asked to intervene and demilitarize how it should be this so called save haven. This request has been done several times!! After again a wave of slaughters in the surrounding villages on a holy Christian day, the serbs had to intervene. How can you sit and lay back when civilians are being killed by fundamentalists provocking time and time again! I wasn't there at the time, and things happened for what people should be punished, I totally agree! But in the media it is often showed as a black and white story(muslims and croats good, and serbs bad). People, believe me... slowly the truth is coming out... but when you will look at this again in 10 years time... you will see that this was a dirty political war. No one of the west (politically) was very interested in causualties on one side or the other, it was all about strategy and political power in a central and important region. (currently the biggest us military bases ouise europe are in the balkans and the southern republic of kosovo (bondsteel). I hope I don't have to tell you why.

Anyway, to finish my story... I think you should all consider that a tear of a mother is the same for every group (Serbian, Mulsim, or Croat). That's why I am feeling anger and sadness for what was once a very beautiful country... but obviously had to be destroyed as it was also one of the most powerfull nations military wise in Europe before the war which didn't want to chose for one side or the other (US/West - Russia/East). Don't forget that america before the war asked Yugoslavia to have a military base in that country (us strategy to get closer to russian border in a key startegic central location in europe). Yugoslavia under Milosevic said no... I don't want a foreign power deciding what is happening in this country (no america, no russia). You can say no 1, 2, but the third time they will bomb and destroy your country, with all what is in their power... and unfortunately this is the result. Once a beautiful and one of the richest Europe before the war, with freedom for everyone, where everyone was the same.. and proud of what they have build up after the 2nd world war But now a country destroyed because it didn t want to give up their freedom by dirty politicians playing their own war and having their own agenda. Bombed with poor nuclear bombs... ecologicaly poluted... Children without a future as they lost parents.. or parents lost their most valuable thing... their children. I hope... I truly hope that more people will open their eyes and don't blindly follow the politicians in everything what they do and believe everything what they say. I hope that one day... it will all be better.

Thanks for reading this


Srebrenica Genocide said...

Christian said: "..., I recently learned, by reading a blog written by some folks in Bosnia, that there's a crime to read the Holy Book of Christianty."

Your allegation is devoid of any facts and amounts to provocation. If it's a crime to read the Bible in Bosnia, how come I was allowed to attent voluntary Christian religious classes in my highschool? As a child, and out of pure curiousity, I would go and visit local Orthodox Christian Church and Catholic chapel in my ethnically mixed town. I would attend voluntary religious classes so I can get extra "A+" on my report card. You can read in Bosnia whatever you want. If you go to Sarajevo, you can buy "adults only" magazines in front of a mosque. That's how liberal Bosnia is. Sure, they are not as liberal as Canada (e.g. Gay Pride Parade), but they are working on it. Bosnia is certainly more liberal than Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia.

Srebrenica Genocide said...

Response to "Dragan O."

FACT #1: Serbs were also obligated to demilitarize around Srebrenica, but they refused to do so.

FACT #2: There were no massacres of Serbs around Srebrenica.

(-1-) Bosnian Serb forces around Srebrenica were obligated to demilitarize, but they constantly violated the 1993 demilitarization agreements. Specific instructions from United Nations Headquarters in New York stated the Serbs should withdraw their heavy weapons before the Bosniaks gave up their weapons. The Serbs refused to honor their part of the demilitarization agreement and they never did withdraw their heavy weapons. In fact, "following the adoption of Security Council resolution 836 (1993), the Bosnian Serbs continued to bombard the safe areas at about the same rate as before. In Sarajevo, for example, Serb shells continued to land in the safe area at an average rate of approximately 1,000 per day." The Siege of Srebrenica lasted from April 1992 to July 1995 and ended with the Srebrenica genocide.

The Trial Judgment of Naser Oric makes it clear that Serb villages around Srebrenica were heavily militarized bases from which Serbs launched attacks on Bosnian Muslim villages, as well as on the town of Srebrenica itself in 1992.

Bosniaks had to defend themselves so they engaged in the counter-attacks or raids against the Serbs. The 1999 U.N. Report on the Fall of Srebrenica concluded that,

"the few 'raids' the Bosniaks mounted out of Srebrenica were of little or no military significance. These raids were often organized in order to gather food, as the Serbs had refused access for humanitarian convoys into the enclave. Even Serb sources approached in the context of this report acknowledged that the Bosniak forces in Srebrenica posed no significant military threat to them.... Serbs repeatedly exaggerated the extent of the raids out of Srebrenica as a pretext for the prosecution of a central war aim: to create geographically contiguous and ethnically pure territory along the Drina, while freeing their troops to fight in other parts of the country."

(-2-) There were no massacres of Serbs around Srebrenica. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found no evidence that forces under the command of Naser Oric committed massacres against Serbs around Srebrenica. The judges concluded that "any criminal responsibility of Naser Oric was offset by the real and present necessity to acquire food for the survival of the population of Srebrenica." Furthermore, the judges "recognised that the defence of necessity was an established principle in customary international law in 1992 and 1993."

The "massacre" by definition is "a brutal slaughter of a large number of people." Individual Serb victims who died in the crossfire between Serbian Chetniks and the regular forces of the Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina do not qualify as the 'victims of massacres.' Milivoje Ivanisevic (who is on record for denying the Srebrenica genocide) claimed that forces under the command of Naser Oric massacred 3,500 Serbs around Srebrenica. However, according to the Hague Tribunal, these figures do not reflect reality. The fact is that Serb forces committed horrendous massacres against the Bosniak civilians around Srebrenica, for example, Glogova Massacre and Zaklopaca Massacre both occured in 1992 and they involved brutal murders of Bosnian Muslim women, children, and the elderly - many of them burned alive.