February 22, 2008
So the good people of Kosovo have voted to declare themselves a free and independent nation. Break out the champagne! Of course they could not survive on their own for more than a week without the protection of U.S. and NATO combat forces standing guard, but let's not spoil the celebration by pointing out the stark reality of their situation. The Serb army would crush them very quickly, if it ever came to that.
Meanwhile, in Belgrade, the Serbs are peeved at losing another big chunk of territory, a process of disintegration that began 16 years ago. Angry mobs stormed the U.S. embassy and set it on fire, after which they wrought havoc upon other Western embassies which they hold responsible for the abrupt act of secession. See Washington Post.
Kosovo, for you folks in Rio Linda, is an Albanian-populated region within Serbia, which in turn used to be a part of Yugoslavia. That "land of the south Slavs" which is the very essence of "Balkanization" was cobbled together from the "spare parts" left behind by the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire in the aftermath of World War I. Yugoslavia's birth was in large part due to the efforts of President Woodrow Wilson and other well-meaning American liberal internationalists. They believed in the dream of 19th-Century Italian leader Giuseppe Mazzini that the surest path to world peace was to foster a nationalistic spirit around the world, creating a brotherhood of nations. At the time, it seemed like the Serbs, Croatians, Bosnians, and lesser groups had enough in common that they could get along in a united country. Eighty years later, another well-meaning American liberal internationalist president (Bill Clinton) decided that the United States had to act to facilitate the dismantling of the very same political unit that President Wilson had helped create. Together with fellow "liberal imperialist" Prime Minister Tony Blair, Clinton saved Kosovo from ethnic cleansing. Uncle Sam createth, Uncle Sam destroyeth. Is it any wonder that the Serbs are a little upset with us?
Knowledge of history can imbue one with an ironic sensibility that may not serve a useful purpose, so let us try to look at the current political dynamics to gain a sense of what we might or might not be able to do in this tragic situation. When President Bill Clinton ordered the U.S. Air Force to bomb Serbia into submission "for the children" of Kosovo back in 1998, everyone knew what the ultimate result would be: Kosovo would eventually secede from Serbia, and probably join Albania some day. It was all a matter of creating a "decent interval" of time to prepare the Serbs for the psychological trauma of losing yet again. That objective clearly has not been met. As for the Albanian-speaking Kosovars, they seem too euphoric to heed cautious advice, and they have every reason to expect that the U.S. military will bail them out in any event. Thus, our existing military presence has widened the gap in terms of the bargaining terms that might be mutually acceptable, applying standard "two-stage game theory." The alternative of pulling U.S. troops out at this point is unlikely to improve things either, however. Since the United States has no vital interests at stake in the former Yugoslavia, we should set up a timetable to withdraw troops, not unlike what critics of the war in Iraq have proposed. The objective should be to force the French and Germans to pick up the slack in terms of European security, while "appeasing" the Russians in a way that won't do us any harm. After another "decent interval" of ten or so years passes, Albania will be able to annex Kosovo with a relatively low cost in human lives. The Serbs won't give up their "ancient homeland" without a fight, but if European troops are on the ground there, they are unlikely to expend significant effort in such a campaign.
Stephen Schwartz goes way overboard, sarcastically "praising" the Serbs as heroes. (via Instapundit)