Monday, December 04, 1995
Why Are Americans Needed in Bosnia?
Why is our politically astute president willing to risk a "Clinton's Vietnam" in Bosnia? This is the same President who withdrew U.S. peacekeepers from Somalia, and never sent any to Rwanda, both areas comparable in atrocities and slaughter of civilians to the losses in Bosnia. And why did he stand off the Congress' demands of lifting the arms embargo, which would have given Bosnia a more equal chance against the Serbs? I submit that all these policies are consistent, and based in a desire to avoid a huge danger, a danger that is afraid to say its name. It is the danger of World War Three.
Consider these observations. Without the US forces behind it, the painfully wrought out peace plan of Dayton can collapse, and the Serbs will overwhelm Bosnia. Bosnia has limited military capabilities and arms, much of them supplied by Croatian intermediaries and Muslim co-religionists from the Middle East. Should the arms embargo become abandoned, there are unemployed gunslingers in Peshavar and Karachi, defenders of the faith such as the mujahedeen who would come to Bosnia's aid: perhaps also the Hebzollah and Hamas and the Army of God. And there are Middle Eastern oil millions that would finance it. Volunteer forces are already fighting for Bosnia that the Isetbegovich government cannot control. Consequently, if Bosnia becomes a threat to Serbia proper, their traditional allies the Russians will be obligated to step in. World War One started when in 1914 the Russians came to the aid of Serbians who were attacked by the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire following the assassination of their Archduke in Sarajevo. Russian entry brought in the Germans, who involved the French, then the British. Keeping the Middle East out of the Balkan conflict must be one of Clinton's main concerns. Presidential candidate Dole could really open a can of worms if he persists in wanting to lift the arms embargo.
This concern is exacerbated by two more grenades waiting to explode, as soon as someone pulls the pins. The main one is Kosovo. An enclave in the South of Serbia, bordering Albania, nearly two million Kosovo Albanians were incorporated into Yugoslavia in 1918. Under Tito they had an autonomous region with its own parliament and police. The autonomy was abolished by the Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic in 1989 and the parliament dismissed in July 1990. Schools, newspapers and TV have been suppressed. The region has been seething under Serbian police state rule, and a strong militant Muslim presence in Bosnia could explode into a Kosovo war, with casualties easily surpassing the 200,000 lives lost in Bosnia. Kosovo is sacred grounds to the Serbs. You can really think WWIII, should Russia, the Middle East and the West be drawn in a conflict centering on Kosovo.
The second grenade is independent Macedonia, seen as a threat by Greece, a country of 10 million, of which 2 million live in Greek Macedonia, concentrated North of Thessaloniki. Greeks worry about possible nationalist attempts to join the 1.2 million independent Macedonians with their relatives in North Greece and provide the Slavs a port on the Aegean. Greeks are so paranoid that Macedonia may not be called by its name and must be referred to as Skopje, else the speaker risks being jailed. If Greece should try a preemptive war to incorporate Macedonia, there would be another conflagration. The interested claimants to the territory are the Serbs and Bulgars, who at various times have held title over Macedonia, and also the Turks, who want Eastern Thrace.
Does the US really have any business getting involved in these convoluted foreign affairs? The President has declared that we have to move in 20,000 peacekeepers for a year, along with the troops of our NATO allies, to supervise the establishment and acceptance of the boundaries painfully ground out in meetings of the three warrior leaders on Dayton, Ohio. We have the power to react and forcefully punish any transgressors against peace. The shrewd Serb leader, Milosevich, may well have traded national boundaries that do not favor Bosnian Serbs to buy such strong American presence and thus avoid the risk of conflagrations that could tackle him from two sides - Bosnia and Kosovo. It would seem that we should heed the lessons of Vietnam and not get involved in internal feuds of foreign people that might lead to fighting in an area that favors guerilla and stifles conventional warfare; yet, it may be that Serbian self-interest will work in favor of a peaceful US engagement. The question is whether Milosevich can keep the Bosnian Serbs and their allies from sabotaging the peace. Cool heads must prevail; we have seen saboteurs of peace fail in Israel.
What makes the Balkans such a bloody battleground? Well, it has been the crossroads of history, dividing its people into different religious persuasions and political allegiances, causing a centuries old feud among ethnically homogeneous people who speak a common language but write the words in Cyrillic (Serbs) or Roman (the rest). The Greek Orthodox Serbs hate the Bosnian Muslims, their own brethren who adapted the Muslim faith after the Ottoman Turks beat the Serb Empire at Kosovo in 1389. The Roman Catholic Croats hate the Serbs who have lorded over them, particularly after the 1918 establishment of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. When King Alexander in 1929, unable to settle the parliamentary fights (a Croat leader was assassinated by a Montenegrin deputy) declared a dictatorship, the Croat separatists assassinated the King in 1934, but the dictatorship continued, until the Germans (and Italians, and Bulgarians and Rumanians) marched in, in 1941. Then the Croats declared independence. The Ustachis, a Croat nationalist-terrorist group took over, allied with certain Bosnian Muslims and killed between 400,000 and 750,000 Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and their own compatriots who disagreed. Under Ante Pavelic (who escaped justice and died in Argentina in 1959), allied with the Nazis, they ruled for a bloody four years in Croatia and Bosnia, killing most of their victims in the Ustachi extermination camp, Jasvenovac.
The Chetniks - Serb nationalist resistance army, under Draza Mihailovic - suffered the most, while warring with the Ustachis, the Germans (with which they eventually formed an agreement) and the Communist Partisans led by the Croat Josip Broz known as Tito. In 1945 when the Communists led by Tito assumed control, they executed both Chetniks and Ustachis as German collaborators, with the reputed loss of 400,000 more lives. In 1946 Tito declared a federated republic, of six republics (Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia) and two autonomous regions (Kosovo and Vojvodina). Tito's iron hand held the dissidents and nationalists in check, but after his death in 1980 the separatists, prompted by Milosevich's push for the supremacy of the numerically superior Serbs, slowly moved towards the breakup of the federation. It started with Slovenia and Croatia declaring independence in 1991. Territorial warring between Croats and Serbs temporarily slowed down in 1992, when the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Moslem separatists declared independence and formed a coalition government. The minority Bosnian Serbs started a bloody revolt, and nearly two thirds of the republic fell in Serb hands, culminating in the flagrant massacres at Srebrenica in July 1995. The war cost 200,000 lives and resulted in 2.5 million refugees leaving their homes. The Croatians, who had been slowly building up forces, attacked the Serb-inhabited Croatian province of Krajina in September, committing war crimes in turn and uprooting 170,000 inhabitants. The Ustachi mentality had not died completely - the reports of atrocities perpetrated upon Serbs mentioned corpses with scooped-out eyes. This nightmarish vision reminded me of a story read decades ago, of the Ustachi leader Pavelic, who met a Western journalist sitting behind a table with a dish filled with what appeared to be oysters. When questioned, he exclaimed: "Eyes of dead Serbs! I'll eat them!" It is too much to expect that we will escape unscathed in these lands of vampire acts and irrational mass violence; only the prospects of preventing a potential world conflagration can make the US peacekeeping effort worth while.
A couple of columns ago I mentioned that the new editor of T&V is Kimberly Schacht, which prompted a flurry of phone calls to me. To answer your questions, Kimberly is a vivacious tall brunette, a grad of Forest Hills High School and St. John's University (B.S in Journalism). She lives in Brooklyn. For two years she was the Editor-in-Chief of The TORCH, St. John's students' weekly, and an assistant director of the Redmen's (now Red Storm) TV broadcasts on the Big East Network. Obviously, she can juggle several balls at a time, a prerequisite at T&V. We wish her luck, as we do to Todd Maisel, who decided to work part-time here, while concentrating on developing his career in freelance news photography, mainly with Daily News. He does not do weddings, but will cover your organization's event, if you're honoring a Kissinger or Kohl or Kennedy, or even some lesser greats of our era.