DAVID BRIN's world of ideas


THE BALKANS (expanded)

by David Brin, Ph.D.

An addendum to "War in the 21st Century." (Copyright © 2004)

The Bush Administration wants to avoid, at all costs, any comparison between the quagmire in Iraq and the stunningly successful Clinton Administration effort to straighten out the tangled mess of the Balkans.

[image from Washington Post]

And what a mess. The dissolution of Yugoslavia reminded everyone of a European truism -- the Balkans are the navel of pain. Vicious sectarian and ethnic fighting became genocidal as absurd mini countries came under the control of murderous tyrants. France, Germany, Britain and the European Union all wrung their hands and proved impotent. Citing history, they called intervention futile while innocents died.

As I've said, I do not mind toppling dictators and liberating populations from monsters. If anything can justify Pax Americana it is the judicious utilization of force to help create a better world. A world where force gradually grows less necessary... then obsolete... and finally forgotten. A world so just that Pax Americana can slip into well-earned and well-respected retirement as the "last empire."

The crucial difference between the Balkans Intervention and the present quagmire in Iraq derives from that word "judicious." While it seemed frustrating and slow at the time, Clinton's team carefully practiced something called diplomacy, first offering to support European endeavors, then prodding Paris and Berlin into partnership, and finally, when the locals had verifiably flaked-out, calling upon NATO and a US-led coalition -- commanded by Gen. Wesley Clarke -- to step in and get the job done.

Gung-ho boys criticized the pace, spurning diplomacy as a waste of time... as they did from the beginning of our involvement in Iraq. But diplomacy affects outcomes, like it or not. Diplomacy, combined with judicious force, made the Balkans Campaign one of the great successes in the history of American foreign policy.

Likewise, during the Clinton Administration neoconservatives decried "pathetically utopian efforts at nation building." Today they are trying desperately to rediscover skills at both diplomacy and nation building, backpedaling on insults that were hurled at allies in 2003, while spending countless times as much on infrastructure in Iraq than was ever spent by Clinton in the Balkans. Incompetently and ineffectively, one might add.

Above all, while the situation in the Balkans was urgent -- as dire but more pressing than Saddam's presence in Iraq -- nobody screeched "emergency!" It was handled as a careful elective procedure, without lies or panic.

Listing outcomes of our Balkans Campaign, we find that:

You cannot argue with results.

And did I mention that no American lives were lost?

Now compare every one of those outcomes with recent events.