No, Michael O’Hanlon, Bosnia is not like Syria
In USA Today, Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Qatari-financed Brookings Institution, has a column in which he pontificates that the ‘Bosnia model’ provides ‘the best first draft’ for what is to be done in Syria. If you’re already flummoxed, allow O’Hanlon to explain:
We need a debate about the right exit strategy in Syria before we enter into the war. The right model is neither Iraq, nor Afghanistan nor Libya, but the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Two decades ago, we watched similar killings for a couple years in the nation that had broken away from Yugoslavia, until international outrage and battlefield dynamics converged to make a solution possible. We bombed Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbian militias, then forced him into a deal that created a ”soft partition” of Bosnia.
It wasn’t perfect, but 18 years later, Serbs, Muslims and Croats have not gone back to war.
To begin with, just to correct the factual inaccuracies before the conceptual one. One: The West didn’t watch the ‘killings’ — a polite term here of ethnic cleansing and genocide — in Bosnia for ‘a couple years’, but four. It took four years until NATO, after Srebrenica and four winters of siege in Sarajevo, decided the time was right to bomb some Serb military targets. Two: A solution was possible at any point during those four years, but what O’Hanlon neglects to mention is that not one but two American administrations thought to watch with indifference genocide in Europe was a better option than going in and stopping it.
Three: I’m not sure how O’Hanlon delineates between soft and hard partition, but the fact of the matter is that the Dayton Accords created two entities within one state, an internal border within a country, and in essence formally entrenched the division between Serbs and Bosniaks/Croats in Bosnia. One could even go so far as to argue that, far from being ‘forced into a deal’, the Serbs basically won the Bosnian War, for after four years and an awkward peace they made for themselves a quasi-autonomous entity with a Serb majority almost clean of Bosniaks.
Four: to say that the peace in Bosnia ‘wasn’t perfect’ is an understatement. Indeed it is true that Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats haven’t returned to warfare, but the ethnic divisions that the post-Dayton governmental structures made permanent have retarded the country’s development to a great extent. As previously highlighted, Bosnia has a Lebanised system of government. Its rotating presidency and ethnically-balanced parliament mean that the government is permanently divided and gridlocked, and still requires international supervision from the High Representative, an autocratic post that should have been abolished years ago. Croatia, Serbia, and Kosovo are off on their way to EU membership — Bosnia, decidedly, is not.
More trouble under the Guardian’s big tent
Sharmine Narwani doesn’t seem to think there’s much wrong with the situation in Syria as it stands. Writing in The Guardian, Narwani stated (in brief):
Syria’s death toll leapt from 45,000 to 60,000 earlier this year, a figure gathered by a UN-sponsored project to integrate data from seven separate lists. The new numbers are routinely cited by politicians and media as fact, and used to call for foreign intervention in the conflict.
But Rami Abdulrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), whose casualty data are part of this count, calls the UN’s effort “political” and the results “propaganda”.
…The problem is that, increasingly, death tolls are used as political tools to scene-set for western-backed “humanitarian interventions” in the Middle East and north Africa and – more broadly – against the kinds of negotiated political settlements that could actually reduce or stop the killing.
It’s time to stop headlining unreliable and easily politicised casualty counts, and use them only as one of several background measures of a conflict. It’s essential too that the media help us avoid such manipulation by asking questions about reported deaths: how were these deaths verified? Are they combatants? Who killed them? How do we know this? Who benefits from these deaths? Was this a violent death or one caused by displacement? How is it even possible to count all these dead in the midst of raging conflict?
This, from an Oxford scholar. Anyway, Armin Rosen then carefully explained why everything Narwani just said was incorrect and hypocritical. In part:
Contra @snarwani’s claims, Benetech has 60k instances in which they had a name, date and location of death.
Now for why this matters: Narwani claims that numbers are being distorted to serve an interventionist agenda.
Even if this were true, @snarwani is flagrantly distorting existing studies and datasets to prove the opposite point. Hypocritical, yes.— Armin Rosen (@ArminRosen) February 24, 2013
George Galloway hates Israelis (and his other greatest hits)
Never let it be said that Gorgeous George doesn’t make his prejudices clear:
As reported in Cherwell, published by the students of Oxford University:
Mr Galloway “stormed out” of a debate at Christ Church on Wednesday evening, upon finding out that his opponent, Eylon Aslan-Levy, a third-year PPEist at Brasenose, was an Israeli citizen.
Mr Galloway had spoken for ten minutes in favour of the motion ‘Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank’, before giving way to Aslan-Levy.
Less than three minutes into Aslan-Levy’s speech against the motion, Galloway was made aware that his opponent was an Israeli citizen.
“I have been misled,” were Galloway’s words — “I don’t debate with Israelis. I don’t recognize Israel.” Later that day, Galloway added on twitter:
George Galloway: “An Israeli citizen could not by definition be my constituent.”: twitter.com/georgegalloway….
I wonder whether that includes Arab Israelis or only the six million Jewish Israelis and those in the Diaspora that hold Israeli citizenship. Only Galloway can answer that, though I think I can make a fairly decent guess. (And I’m afraid I could not embed George Galloway’s actual tweet, for he has previously blocked me for asking too many question about dead children in Syria.)
Debate Night in America: When a Foreign Policy Debate Just Isn’t
Canada. Mexico. Cuba. Brazil. Tunisia. Jordan. Lebanon. Turkey. The Palestinians. The European Union. Kosovo. India. Burma. Japan. Vietnam. Indonesia.
These are the names of various nations (or supranational organisations) critical to the foreign policy interests of the United States that those tuning into last night’s debate did not hear about. Or, at least not in any substantive way.
The reasons for this were essentially two-fold. First, the illusion of a free exchange of ideas pertaining to international affairs lasted around ten minutes, when after a fumbling exchange on Libya, both candidates retreated to zingers and talking points. President Obama started it off, in fact, with this:
Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that al-Qaida’s a threat because a few months ago when you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia — not al-Qaida, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.
But, Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s. You say that you’re not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq, but just a few weeks ago you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now.
Romney, later in the debate, cracked open the following canned attack:
Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now down to 285. We’re headed down to the — to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.
Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We’ve changed for the first time since FDR. We — since FDR we had the — we’ve always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we’re changing to one conflict.
To which, Obama said this:
Debate Night in America: Biden v Ryan
Quite clearly, the vice-presidential debate will be an occasion where liberals believed Joe Biden was the better man, and conservatives Paul Ryan. And, whichever man is declared the loser by Media will blame the proactive moderator for having asked too many tough questions of their man. Martha Raddatz, while I’m on that theme, moderated finely, hosting an excellent debate, asking her pointed questions in a way that only made Jim Lehrer look worse.
As to the candidates, if Paul Ryan is to be declared the loser — and of the two, it would be he who is most likely to come off worse — is it because he sort to evade the questions frequently, lying through his teeth about the President’s record, and avoiding specificity on his own plan for the economy. Ryan once more failed, for example, to explain how exactly he would pay for his voodoo economic plan: a 20pc tax cut across the board while increasing spending on defence. All he had to do was name one deduction he would end: he couldn’t.
Moreover, on the topic of abortion, Ryan gave a concerning answer when pressed if he would seek to remove the protections that gave women a right to choose. Raddatz asked, “If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?”. Ryan, before asking, pushed, sighed, and snorted a little through his nose:
We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination.
In other words, if Republicans control the House, Senate, and the White House, Ryan would encourage the restriction of abortion access through legislation, in opposition to Romney’s current stance on the topic.
The shame of Srebrenica and history repeated
Unbeknownst to me, until now of course, back in July I had a letter published in The Guardian on the anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica. I choose to republish this now not only because one’s words should never go to waste, but because as the civil war in Syria continues the central point of the letter remains as timely as it did when it was first published:
This week marks the 17th anniversary of the beginning of the Srebrenica massacre, during which 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered, and thousands of women were subjected to systemised rape and torture (Srebrenica: Britain’s guilt, 13 July). The war by Serbs and Croats on Bosnia’s Muslims, which saw the return of concentration camps and racially motivated genocide to European soil, resulted in the deaths of more than 30,000 Bosniak civilians deaths and the displacement of many more.
In watching with indifference as ethnic cleansing occurred in Bosnia, the west failed its first major test since the Holocaust, as the call to never again allow such atrocities to occur on our watch and with our knowledge fell victim to selective hearing. Now, as we witness a war in Syria where Bashar al-Assad is unable to distinguish civilian from militiaman, the consequence being the murder of more than 17,000 of his people and the flight of thousands to Turkey and Lebanon, I cannot help but conclude we are failing to learn from our past mistakes once more.