Thursday, October 19, 2006

Iraq and Bosnia

Iraq is looking more like a civil war. Recent reports mentioned continuous fighting between Shiites and Sunites for several days in Balad - a city 80 km north of Baghdad. This was the first time that there were protracted battles between those two parties. Before there were only hit and run attacks and bombings.

The fighting continued despite the government sending troops. The problem was that the government troops tended to side with the Shiites. In the end the Americans had to intervene to end the fighting - that had lasted three days by then.

Recently on B92 the American diplomat William Montgomery explained how the American policy towards Bosnia in the 1990-1995 period was shaped by a belief in a central state like in the US (he fails to explain why the US opposed centralizing Yugoslavia). Interestingly this same policy bias can be seen in Iraq.

My advice for Iraq would be:
- reorganise the provinces on an ethnic basis. Do it in such a way that you end up with just as much Shiites in Sunnite controled provinces as opposite.
- Give provinces a strong role in maintaining their own security.

The advantages of this policy would be:
- there is no gain in ethnic violence for any side. Retributions in areas controled by the "others" will cancel out any effect of local violence.
- if Iraq might fall apart you are prepared and have a fair solution.

For this policy to take affect the State Department will probably have to fire their Balkan experts first. People who imposed the recent "police reform" in Bosnia are ultimately uncapable of implementing such a policy.

Iraq recently has adapted a law that foresees a form of decentralisation. It will only take effect in 2008, so it will long before its effect can be evaluated. But it seems to favor the wealthier provinces with income from oil, while it doesn't pay much attention to security. This looks like the situation in Yugoslavia where the US was very understanding towards the economically based seperatism of Croatia and Slovenia while it had a negative view of the security based seperatism of the Kosovo Albanians and the Serbs of Croatia.

The difference seems to be how the leaders dress. Leaders of economic separatists tend to dress very well: they try to reflect the diplomatic respectability of a state. Leaders of security based separatists tend to dress badly: they try to show their struggling followers that they don't misuse the funds that they get from them (remember Churchill). Unfortunately this doesn't sell well with the elitist international diplomats. An interesting illustration was Kosovo. After the UCK somehow got flush in cash in 1998 and got represented by well dressed people like Thaci the diplomats got interested. And even then the diplomats continued to ignore the much more representative but shabby Rugova. To go back to Iraq, the young generation of Kurdish leaders favor "Western-style business suits--expensive labels, at that-".

Unfortunately this diplomatic priority conflicts with the priorities of a country. A country should give priority to providing its citizens with safety. And it should be very carefull with giving in to the greed of its richer provinces. The disastrous outcome in Yugoslavia was no coincidence.

In psychology you have the term "cognitive dissonance". It basically says that when you are doing something against your beliefs your beliefs will change. I believe that is what has happened with many Western "Balkan experts". They had to explain and support a policy that was driven by certain forces who wanted to get rid of Milosevic at any price - because he was a "communist" who resisted IMF "reforms". To explain that to themselved these experts had to tell themselves that Milosevic was really a bad man in terms that they understood (ethnic cleansing; Great Serbia, etc.) and that his opponents were basically good.

This "cognitive dissonance" has not just obscured their vision on the Balkan. It has also obscured the general vision of minority questions and how to solve them. And that is what makes it so difficult for the State Department to have a clear view of the Iraqi problem. A Hindu would call it "bad karma".

Of course Iraq has more problems (militia, Al Qaeda, etc), but the country first needs a sound structure that gives all sides trust that their interests are safe. Without that trust the other problems will stay unsolvable - except through sheer exhaustion. But the US will give up long before exhaustion sets in.

Instead we see now what always has been the curse of the diplomatic world: the trust in individuals. Montgomery with his trust in Izetbegovic and Gligorov is an example for Yugoslavia. I believe that he would have done better to have some good thinking about the best way forwards for Yugoslavia instead of placing all his trust in a few men who were distrusted by many in Yugoslavia.

In Iraq the International Crisis Group recently showed how ridiculous this diplomatic favorite picking can become when they wrote a report describing Muqtada Al-Sadr as a man who might play an important role in the future of Iraq.

Al-Sadr reminds me of Hitler in the 1920s:
- Both are nobodies who through violence got a repuation for "getting things done". In Hitlers case this was against the communists - in Al-Sadrs case against the Sunnites and Baathists. As we all know violence stayed an important part of Hitlers rule until the very end and I have serious doubts whether Al-Sadr will be different. If we give Al-Sadr the chance he will establish a dictatorship that looks a lot like that of Saddam.
- Both operate militias (in Hitlers case the SS and SA), that they only partly control. Newspapers regularly suggest that this is a weakness and that they are about to loose power. The opposite is true: it allows them to enlist fighters who are too independent to operate in rigid organisation. Another advantage of this structure is that it allows them to deny responsibility even for actions that everyone believes they ordered. This makes that the judiciary cannot get hold of them and gives them an aura of invincibility.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Silajdzic' all or nothing game

William Montgomery is a US diplomat who served in Yugoslavia in its final period. Nowadays he regularly writes a column for B92. Often it is not very interesting, but his recent "deje vu" article certainly was. He compares the present situation in Bosnia with that before the war and finds them very similar. But what interested me most was his vision of the breakup of Yugoslavia.

When one reads Montgomery's article the first impression is that he has learned a lot since then. But on closer observation his core beliefs have stayed the same.

It is very interesting to see how he discards Milosevic's efforts to centralize Yugoslavia without much thought. Obviously he disliked Milosevic and he didn't bother to look after the arguments for his policy. Yet at the same time he finds Izetbegovic's longing for a strong central state in Bosnia very understandable. He even compares it to the American melting pot.

It keeps amazing me when I hear politicians talk about splitting up countries as if they talk about clipping nails. In fact splitting up countries is a very sensitive process that should be done very carefully. It can be done: see the breakup of Czechoslovakia. But in Yugoslavia the international politicians have made a mess of it. Breaking up Yugoslavia and expecting that the same ethnic groups can live happy together in a smaller unit is in my eyes stupidity. The hurt of a badly managed break-up makes it harder - not easier - to live together.

Also very interesting is Montgomery's description of a meeting between Eagleburger and Jovic. He tells how Eagleburger gave a typical American blunt speach before the war. One of its elements was that the Serbs had to accept the idea of an independence referendum in Bosnia. Jovic's reaction was to say calmly and matter of factly "If there is a referendum in Bosnia and independence there, there will be war.". Even now Montgomery sees this only as a threat. He simply doesn't get it that it may have been a warning that he was playing with fire.

This brings me to the recent election victory of Silajdzic in Bosnia. This is the man who does not recognize Dayton and who torpedoed Bosnia's new constitution. If major Serb politicians had behaved in a similar way the OHR would have given serious reprimands and threatened with sanctions. But now it stayed quiet. It looks like the internationals have been sent on a guilt trip by Silajdzic and are no longer capable of logical thinking.

Silajdzic likes to repeat that the Republika Srpska is based on ethnic cleansing. He is partially right of course (some parts had already a Serb majority), but the same applies to much of the Federation. Like it or not, but this is the predictable outcome of an ethnic war. The main question is not the guilt question, but the question how we can best go from here.

During the war the Bosniac government liked to maintain the pretense that they were there for all Bosnians - not just the Muslims. It was on this basis that the Serb occupied part of Sarajevo was allocated to the Bosniac government in the Dayton Agreement. They could have proved there that their propaganda was true. But instead we saw a speedy ethnic cleansing of this part of Sarajevo. Muslims constitute now over 90% of the population and minorities are still leaving. And the Bosniac politicians do nothing to stop this. They give only lame excuses about hurt feelings in the war. So we know what will happen if the rest of Bosnia will come under Bosniac rule. I don't think this is what the international community wants.

Silajdzic most fervent followers are Muslims from places like Srebrenica, Banja Luka and Prijedor, that are now in the RS. One can understand their longing to return to a less hostile climate than the present RS. But this should not be a one-sided right. Bosnias Serbs need a place to live too. The Dayton borders were designed so that at least everyone had a home. When returns happen both ways this works. But when it works only one way Bosnia will end with 100% Muslims.

Silajdzic's game is an all or nothing game. If he wins his followers can return to their original homes - very probably ejecting the other inhabitants. But if he does not win he has only made the ethnic tensions worse and a return for his followers more difficult.

So while Silajdzic states that he is for a Bosnia without borders and ethnic differences he is in fact for a Bosnia where one ethnic group is allowed to dominate.

Silajdzic's great example is Croatia. The Croats largely got away with cleansing most of their Serbs. The EU and the US could have set Croatia strong targets regarding the number of returning Serbs. Instead they prefer trophy hunting and going after people like Gotovina. I think this is the wrong priority. Restauration of the damage of the war is more important than getting some people behind bars.

It is claimed that tribunals like ICTY can prevent future conflicts from getting so cruel. But I believe that in every conflict every party has its war crimes. And in the climate of a war getting things done is more important than playing by the rules - so they often remain unpunished. In the court room this is played out by pointing to the delicate position of the party that committed the war crimes. And so it comes down to the question whether a party waged a justified war - a question the ICTY is not qualified to answer and which it doesn't try to investigate thoroughly either. The most obvious example is the case of Nasir Oric. As the main militia commander of Srebrenica he was involved in the murder of hundreds of unarmed Serb civilians. Yet in the end he got away with a 2 year verdict. In his defense the court gave a lot of attention to the delicate position of Srebrenica at that time (a besieged and hungry city on the brink of collapse).

The Serbs, Croats and Muslims all managed to get the areas that they control ethnically cleansed. For all three there are strong indications that this was no coincidence - but a well planned policy. All three had a different kind of policy to achieve this. The Croats in Croatia and Muslims in Bosnia relied more on their control of the state to create a unbearable climate for minorities, while the Croats in Bosnia and the Serbs needed violence to create an area under their control first. I believe this is the big picture and this should be the main focus of our attention - not individual war crimes.

Brcko is an example how Bosnia could be. No ethnic group is really dominant and the international comunity keeps a close watch to keep it this way. Similarly all the peace proposals before and during the Bosnian War foresaw territories where one or the other ethnic group dominated.

The heart of democracy is not elections. It is that all men are equal (before the law and before the government). It seems that for mr. Silajdzic democracy means that the Muslims may dominate the Serbs and the Croats because they are with more. But this is not democracy. It is something that is often nichnamed as "the dictatorship of the majority" and it is usually compensated for with special autonomy.