Monday, June 12, 2006

The emptiness of trophy hunting

With the fall of Mogadishu in Somalia to Islamic militias, a heated discussion has started about the role of the CIA in Somalia. The CIA is believed to have supported the war lords with lots of money. The goal was to get their help in finding Al Qaeda fugitives and (to a lesser extent) to strengthen their position versus the Islamic militias. However, it would have alarmed and united the Islamic militias, resulting in the fall of Mogadishu. The main criticism is that the CIA had only short term goals and no longterm strategy.

So far the summary of this NY Times article.

This reminds me very much of the Balkan. Here we have trophies like Milosevic, Mladic, Karadzic and Gotovina that have all the attention of the US and Europe. And here too a larger strategy seems to be lacking.

Trophies are empty victories. In fact nothing changes. And so after one trophy has been catched the focus immediately shifts to the next. Once it was believed that if only Milosevic was in The Hague everything would be over. But then the focus shifted to Mladic and Karadzic. And only the naive believe that when they have been caught we won't hear about some new "indicted war criminals" who absolutely have to be arrested.

The trophy hunting for Milosevic didn't stop after he was arrested. Next we saw a prosecution that tried to make its trophy as big as possible by overcharging. In the end they never got beyond circumstantial evidence and even there their performance was stained by many unreliable witnesses. No wonder many observers found Milosevic the most rational and credible man in the courtroom.

It leaves one wondering what would have happened if Milosevic had stayed in Belgrade. Very probably he would now be in jail for some political murder or corruption. But even when he was still politically active he would have been put in a political straightjacket just like Meciar in Slovakia.

A similar case applies to Mladic and Karadzic. Getting them in The Hague will be satisfying for their victims. But it is very doubtful whether it will deliver political results. From the political point of view it is irrelevant whether they are in some remote refuge in Bosnia, Serbia or Montenegro or in a jail in The Hague. They will land in jail sooner or later and until that they will be largely polical irrelevant. It is just a waste to spend lots of political energy on them.

Kosovo's Albanian war criminals are very interesting in this respect because here the international community has adopted a more pragmatic approach. Of course it helps that there is less media attention and as a consequence less trophy value in those people.

There is an age-old strategy to deal with popular extremist groups: fight them, but also listen to them and pick up their valid points so that they will loose appeal. Unfortunately the Western trophy hunters do exactly the opposite: their focus on their trophy is so strong that they identify the whole nationality with the trophy. This has as effect that the local people (just as everywhere else mostly innocent people) start to odentify with the war criminals and to believe that they can't be that bad.

In my opinion we should stop trophy hunting and instead concentrate on creating a stable situation. As for the war criminals: indict them, arrest them when possible and for the rest ignore them. They are politically irrelevant.

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