Sunday, July 22, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [28]

Epilogue 1996 [concluded]

Glenny devotes six of the final ten pages of his book to "Operation Storm", the military operation in which Croatian forces retook the Krajina region and through a mixture of direct action and failure to provide security managed to expel virtually the entire Serbian population of the region. I have no real quarrel with his account, although he does seem to be using it to support his implicit case that Tudjman and the Croats bear an equal share of the blame for the Yugoslav wars.

This leaves four pages for the "end game" in which the United States and NATO used bombing to force the Bosnian Serbs to the negotiating table. Being that Glenny had always argued that using force against the Serbs would backfire, he employs some verbal gymnastics arguing that what actually happened was more complicated and a matter of timing than simple causation. There's some merit in that view, but he pushes it a little too hard and a little too inflexibly. In Glenny's world, he's the only person who always understood the root of the matter. He is right about much of what he says here--it's true that the US was not interested in actually defeating the Bosnian Serbs, and that the Contact Group plan they were pushing for amounted to institutionalizing ethnic partition. But it seems strange, and a little disingenuous, for him to harp on this now when throughout the book he was adamant that intervention was pointless and that the war had its own logic which must be allowed to play out. Glenny grants none of the wars actors--particularly the Serbs--any agency whatsoever. Everything they did was in Newtonian reaction to historic and international forces. 

And so this updated edition ends--with Glenny somberly lecturing the Western world and the international community that although it is too late for the Yugoslavs, we must learn the lessons of this war. What those lessons are--I don't know if Glenny really expects us to draw any. He certainly doesn't waste any ink spelling them out.

I have no final thoughts on this book--I've said my piece throughout this 28 part review, and others have already eloquently pointed out Glenny's failings. He is an excellent reporter, with a great eye for detail and human interest. And I think he is an essentially humane man who genuinely loathed the suffering he saw. But his analytic abilities were overtaxed, and his grasp of history and politics was simply inadequate. He knew the details and the facts, but could not recognize his own biases interpretive framework, and in the end that conceptual limitation undermines the usefulness of this book. 

Sorry to end with a whimper rather than a bang, but it's past time to move on.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [27]

Epilogue 1996 [continued]

Pages 274-282 contrast the ultimate success Tudjman had in achieving all his strategic goals for Croatia versus Milosevic's ultimate failure in spite of some impressive short-term tactical accomplishments. Ulimately, Milosevic lost Yugoslavia, then Greater Serbia, then the Krajina in Croatia, and then finally through the Bosnian Serbs under the bus as well.

Glenny then goes on to state that the United States and Germany gradually came to an agreement to throw support behind Croatia. This led to a breakthrough in diplomatic and military action by the international community which had been paralyzed up to this point.

I've no real arguments with his account here; being that this section was written quickly and added to the 1996 edition, there is less analysis and interpretation--which, coming from Glenny, is frankly a relief.

In the next post, I will review the final 10 pages of the book.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [26]

Epilogue 1996 [continued]

The next six pages, in which Glenny meets Richard Holbrooke and Robert Frasure, doesn't quite pass the smell test for me, even though I've never seen anything in this book or elsewhere to suggest that Glenny isn't an honest and reliable reporter (it's his analysis I take exception to). I don't necessarily mean to suggest that he is making these scenes up; only that his presentation suggests, or implies, that Holbrooke was sincerely seeking not just insight or clarification from Glenny but specific advice about actions. Perhaps Glenny is just playing along when he responds to Holbrooke's query about whether or not NATO should bomb the Serbs around Bihac, but if so his sense of humor is dry even by British standards.

The real point of this section is for Glenny to point out that the Americans ultimately pushed for a settlement not much different from the Vance-Owen plan that the Clinton Administration had rejected previously. And this is true; but while Glenny rushes through some of the contingent events in the interim--marketplace massacres, and the fall of two of the three eastern enclaves (he acknowledges that Srebrenica was a massive atrocity even though he states that the full truth is yet to be known)--he does so so quickly that it would be easy for the casual reader to conclude that this means that the partition of Bosnia was the only sensible solution all along.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [25]

Epilogue 1996 [continued]

The next six pages consist of a short discussion of the "parastates", which Glenny describes as "the mutant offspring of an expiring state." The term is not his own, nor is the observation that such parastates existed in the former Yugoslavia. I give him credit for acknowledging that the Serb Republic in Bosnia was a creation of genocide. However, he considers the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government to have been nothing more than one of three parastates within Bosnia, eliminating any lingering doubts that he did not give the Bosnian government under Izetbegovic any legitimacy. Which goes a long way towards explaining why he was so opposed to Western support--he rejected the entire notion that there was a Bosnian state.

Furthermore, he expresses outrage at the video of a Bosnian soldier from a government propaganda piece extolling the upcoming offensive planned during the Jimmy Carter-brokered cease-fire. Specifically, he bemoans what he perceives as a double-standard, as the international community would have been outraged to see "the Serbs" making such provocative gestures, but the Bosnian government does not received condemnation when it "trashes its solemn commitments to the international community."

There's a lot to unravel in that statement, little of which Glenny seems aware of. For one thing, the description of the "Bosnian government" is his--he often refers to "the Moslems" (even in this section, even when describing the very military actions being discussed here), yet here he refers to the "Bosnian government." Yet he is treating the government as just another "parastate" in this section, without explaining how that is.

The issue of why the Bosnian government--a UN member democracy being destroyed by an avowedly genocidal rebel regime supported by its more powerful neighbor--owes to the international community which has denied it the right of self-defense a "solemn obligation", needless to say, goes unmentioned. We are far beyond expecting Misha Glenny to acknowledge that issue.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

"The Fall of Yugoslavia" by Misha Glenny [24]

Epilogue 1996 [continued]

The next fourteen pages [248-262] recount the situation in the Macedonian Republic throughout the period 1992-1996. The discussion is fairly balanced; Glenny does an admirable job of explaining that Macedonian Slav national identity is both historically recent and legitimate, and I give him credit for that. Being that the worst of his fears regarding Macedonia thankfully have not come to pass (and he wrote this several years before the Kosova war), there is little need to consider this section at length.

I will note that when considering Greek opposition to Macedonian national identity, he takes Greek "fears" of Macedonian expansionism a little too much at face value. Even though he does make the case that Tito once used Macedonian nationalism as an excuse for territorial expansion in the early years of his rule, he is far too quick to forgive ridiculous arguments about Hellenic supremacy and dubious ties to Alexander the Great at face value. He criticizes Macedonian soccer fans for nationalist displays at a game against Cypus, without considering that these displays were perhaps more a function of defiance rather than provocation.

As with Serbian nationalist attitudes towards Bosnian independence, Glenny seems to regard Greek nationalist "fears" regarding Macedonian independence as the default position from which any discussion of the issue should start. And his discussion includes absolutely no consideration of official Greek attitudes towards non-Greek minorities and how that might influence the situation.

All in all, it seems that had armed conflict broken out in Macedonia, Glenny's attitude toward the situation might have been quite similar, although he seems to have a higher opinion towards Kiro Gligorov than he had for Alija Izetbegovic. But having spent far more time than I intended on this book, I won't extend any further time or space on a hypothetical.