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.
Election Day: It’s Here, God Help Us
Well, it’s here. Why, it seems like only five short years ago that Mitt Romney declared his intention to run for the highest office in the land, failed spectacularly, waited a few years, ran again, and won the nomination by virtue of competing against a field of absolute idiots. I mean, remember those guys? Good grief. To use a wonderful English expression, Perry, Bachmann, and Cain couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. Lucky Romney doesn’t drink.
Now, Americans get the chance (in states where the vote isn’t being suppressed) to select between a man who ran from January to October as a “severe conservative”, only to shaft his base and dump all his previously-held convictions on the night of the first debate, and President Obama, who as I’ve previously stated is the man best qualified to lead the nation through the next four years:
During the coming presidential term, whoever is in the Oval Office will be faced with a great many tests, both domestic and foreign. …Based upon what Mitt Romney has shown us of himself, I do not trust him to secure America’s future in a manner that is just, equitable, and reasonable at home, and builds relationships, protects America’s interests, and advances the right values abroad. Barack Obama’s record indicates, by contrast, that he would be best suited to guiding America through the next four years.
I feel that both Mitt and Obama have completely different paths for our country. I think [Romney] would undo a lot of the work the president has done in the few years of his presidency. We’re already on one track; let’s give it a chance and see where we are in another four years. I liked Romney’s answer to my question better—his business experience swayed me, but the third debate swayed me towards Obama. That was a commander-in-chief test. Romney looked uncomfortable; he didn’t look presidential like he did in first debate. How are you gonna lead if you’re uncomfortable?
As we stumble towards the conclusion of this stupidest election season since the last one (Sarah Palin, anyone?), perhaps now would be the best time to highlight my favourite moments from the campaign. This has to include the primary season, since nothing really happened after that, save the exposure of a lot of secretly-recorded video tapes, some Daily Caller ‘scoops’, and something to do with a chair and binders full of women.
Debate Night in America: Romney Gets Pwned
Twelve hours after the fact, the thing that sticks in my mind about last night’s town hall is what a jerk Mitt Romney was. Backed into a corner by President Obama assertive manner (after his lackadaisical approach in Denver), Romney became even more fastidious about the rules, acting unnecessarily aggressively towards both the President and the moderator, Candy Crowley, who did a fine job under the circumstances. The good work he did disowning himself during the first debate, creating another, altogether more kindly, moderate, and personable version of Mitt Romney (3.0? 4.0?) has been undone.
Constantly squared up to each other — though it was all largely handbag stuff — there were two critical moments where Romney, in his haste, managed to get totally, for lack of a better word, pwned. The first was during an exchange which he should have won, when Kerry Ladka asked Obama who “refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya, prior to the attacks that killed four Americans”. Obama evaded, as he had to since there’s no good answer to that. But later, Romney said, “It took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror”. Crowley as moderator in reference to Obama’s Rose Garden speech noted, “It — he did in fact, sir. He did call it an act of terror”, with the President adding helpfully and maybe a little bullishly, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”. The transcript notes applause and laughter.
The second, late on in the debate, was a display of Romney’s agitation when any reference to his investment portfolio is made, including the infamous Swiss bank account (and the Cayman Islands… and Bermuda…). Romney defending himself said, “Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in — in Chinese companies. Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?” He kept asking, “Have you looked at your pension?”. Obama’s response: “You know, I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours, so it — it doesn’t take as long”. Again, applause and laughter. And again, what a jerk.
Also, this happened:
Jerusalem, In Brief
Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
Jerusalem has been essential to the Jewish people as the centre of spiritual life since the construction of the First Temple in 957 BC and the gradual transition from polytheism to monotheism codified under the age of Kings Hezekiah and Josiah in the 8th and 7th centuries BC. Jerusalem is also a political centre, the City of David and the seat of kings, and since 1949 it has been home to the Knesset, the Supreme Court, and the other organs of the world’s one and only democratic and Jewish state.As David Ben-Gurion stated in December 1949:
We see fit to state that Jewish Jerusalem is an organic, inseparable part of the State of Israel, just as it is an integral part of Jewish history and belief….Jerusalem is the heart of the State of Israel.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, it is essential that the United States government does not recognise this to be so via a relocation of their embassy until the final status of Jerusalem under international law has been resolved. For just as the Palestinian people make a good claim to part of the Land of Israel, so too do they wish to make their capital one day in the sector of Jerusalem east of the Green Line that was occupied in 1967 and annexed in 1980. Palestinian families with property deeds can trace their claim to homes in Sheikh Jarrah and Abu Tor to even before the beginning of the British Mandate.
The Little Lies That Matter
It was the line that would jumpstart his ascendancy: “I’m Jimmy Carter, and I’m running for President. I will never lie to you.” When Gore Vidal first heard this remark, he was standing with the late Senator Frank Church of Idaho. Church, so Vidal records in his memoir Palimpsest, turned to him and said with morose delight, “Now Carter wants to deny the very nature of politics.”
In the case of President Carter, it was not a lie that destroyed his presidency. As it transpired, the American people did not much care for the truth either, promptly throwing him out of the Oval Office in favour of an acting president who had spent most of his life earning a crust by making audiences believe just about anything. Reagan’s administration would be thrown into chaos by one gigantic lie, or occlusion of the truth: the cover-up of illegal arms sales to Iran, and the misdirection of profits from those transactions to purchase weaponry for the Contras in Nicaragua.
These all-encompassing lies which engulf administrations and have the whole nation talking are not in fact the ones we ought to be concerned about the most. After all, the American people in this regard have traditionally been rather good at distinguishing the colossal, harmful lies from those not worth a second thought.
While conservatives believed it to be a scandal worth fighting over, the majority of Americans understood that it was not the business of Kenneth Starr or anybody else for that matter whether President Clinton did or did not have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. At once, the Watergate scandal and all that came with it – obstruction of justice, abuse of power, financial irregularities – forced Richard Nixon to become the first the resign the presidency.
Of Deficit Hawks and War Hawks
When John McCain – the national security president that never was – ran for the highest office in 2008, foreign policy received top billing in the Republican Party’s platform, affirmed by a pledge to “defend the nation, support our heroes, and secure the peace”. It is the sign of not just how much things have changed under Mitt Romney’s stewardship, but out in the country at-large as well, that notes pertaining to American exceptionalism in the world have slipped to the back of the book in the 2012 platform.
Jobs and the economy are much on everyone’s mind, and Osama bin Laden’s corpse having dissolved into the Arabian Sea, the War on Terror and international relations are suddenly of secondary import. Even the party’s foreign policy platform tacks back to matters fiscal, arguing that “the best way to promote peace and prevent costly wars is to ensure that we constantly renew America’s economic strength. A healthy American economy is what underwrites and sustains American power”, it concludes.
Whither Republican foreign policy remains nonetheless an essential and inescapable question. For, since recent polling data shows President Obama up only 1 percentage point over Romney nationwide, and engaged in dead heats in swing states like Ohio, Virginia, and Florida, the matter of what a future Republican administration would do vis-à-vis China, Iran, Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the transatlantic relationship becomes even more important.
It is immediately clear that, both as a party of the right and as the minority party in government, the Republican Party wishes to portray itself as far more hawkish than the Obama administration. “The current Administration has responded with weakness to some of the gravest threats to our national security”, including Russia, China, and Iran, and has fought House and Senate Republicans over “$500 billion in cuts through a sequestration in early 2013 that will take a meat axe to all major defence programs”. The Republican Party is, by contrast, “the advocate for a strong national defence as the pathway to peace, economic prosperity, and the protection of those yearning to be free”.
But today’s Republican Party has co-opted by economic libertarians, including the vice-presidential nominee, and this trend is reflected in the platform’s innate problem: that its two theoretical foundations are fundamentally antipodal and stand in direct contradiction with each other. On the one hand, in the name of “economic security and fiscal solvency”, the party pledges “articulate candidly to the American people our priorities for the use of taxpayer dollars to address those threats”. Put another way, the GOP tacitly acknowledges that rooting out the oft-mentioned trio of waste, fraud, and abuse are not enough to streamline the defence budget; cuts in real terms will need to be made to depress the national debt.
At the same time, the GOP remains wholly committed to the Reagan era axiom of peace through strength, and the idea, itself based on the false and downright ludicrous premise that the Berlin Wall was deconstructed on the back of having a bloated Defence Department, that “only our capability to wield overwhelming military power can truly deter the enemies of the United States from threatening our people and our national interests”. Thus the party commits itself to maintaining “military and technical superiority through innovation while upgrading legacy systems including aircraft and armoured vehicles” as well as “state-of-the-art surveillance, enhanced special operations capabilities, and unmanned aerial systems”.