Friday, February 03, 2006

A Glaring Omission

There is an excellent piece by H. Arthur Scott Trask on LRC today, dealing with the state of perpetual war so beloved of the Imperial government these days. It makes a lot of good points about the Cold War, the imperial mentality and the current "war" on terrorism or whatnot. But it makes one glaring omission: the Balkans.

In Trask's piece, 9-11 follows the 1991 Gulf War, drawing on the continuity between the Bushes. I beg to differ. It was Clinton who ran on an interventionist platform in 1992, and presided over the transformation of NATO into an aggressive alliance, first in Bosnia (1995) then Serbia (1999). It was Clinton who sent troops into Somalia and Haiti, and waged a lengthy air war on Iraq from 1998-99 (stopping only to switch to Serbia). British historian Kate Hudson saw this in 2003, when she called attention to a "pattern of aggression" characterizing the US foreign policy.

Another important aspect of Balkans interventions is that they were gradual. Involvement in Bosnia began as one demilitarized zone for humanitarian aid delivery (Sarajevo airport), then expanded to the no-fly zone, "safe havens," punitive air strikes, and finally a joint military operation with local proxy forces on the ground. Then that precedent was used in 1998 to threaten Serbia over Kosovo, and ratcheted up to full conventional war in March 1999, without even a fig leaf of UN authorization. "Desert Storm" was grounded in international law and authorized by the UN; "Allied Force" was emphatically neither. Can anyone seriously argue that without all those precedents, it would have been possible for Bush II to invade Iraq in the manner he did?

It isn't just the "neocons" that are the problem. Clinton's wars were engineered by "neoliberals," while the neocons cheered on. Both are united in the cause of American Empire, which is the problem. Much as I agree with Trask's article, and the points it's making, I don't see how anyone can fully understand how the Empire came about after the end of the Cold War if the ground-work done in the 1990s isn't at least mentioned. That, rather than personal attachments to the region, is the primary reason I still write about the Balkans.

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