Death of a Dictator - Good riddance to Milosevic - and to Saddam, too
(Published in Weekly Standard, 03/27/2006, Volume 011, Issue 26)
Albert Wohlstetter, better than almost any other American strategic thinker, understood Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian dictator who died at The Hague where he was on trial for genocide. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 1995, Wohlstetter drew a direct line between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the Balkan butcher: 'The successful coalition in the Gulf War . . . left in place a Ba'ath dictatorship . . . .That told Slobodan Milosevic, who is not a slow learner, that the West would be even less likely . . . to stop his own overt use of the Yugoslav Federal Army to create a Greater Serbia purged of non-Serbs.'
Wohlstetter was not the only person to recognize the evil of Milosevic. Margaret Thatcher was a prominent advocate of direct and firm action against Serbian aggression. She recalled indignantly in 1999, 'The West could have stopped Milosevic in Slovenia or Croatia in 1991, or in Bosnia in 1992.' In 1995, Milosevic was slowed, at least, by the Dayton Accord, which, however, left Bosnian Serbs with most of the country and treated Milosevic, who had incited them to mass murder, rape, and wholesale vandalism, as a more or less respectable figure. In 1999, four years after Dayton, 33 prominent foreign policy experts, including John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz, signed a statement calling on President Clinton to end the 'pact with the devil' signed at Dayton and to intervene immediately in Kosovo, the last setting for Milosevic's theater of the macabre. So we did, and Milosevic was stopped.
He was deposed by his countrymen in 2000, deported to The Hague by the Yugoslav government, and put on trial before a special tribunal. At the trial he attempted to present himself as a prescient and courageous defender of the West against al Qaeda. According to him, the murder of elderly Muslim peasants in remote districts of Bosnia or Kosovo was a blow against Islamist terrorism. In 2002, he even tried to claim American government support for the allegation that 'mujahedeen' had fought in Kosovo. In reality, while some 2,000-4,000 Saudi-backed 'Arab Afghans' intruded into the Bosnian conflict, they failed to influence the course of the fighting, and their form of Islam repelled the European Bosnians.
And now the brute will be buried, leaving a legacy of some 250,000 dead (mostly Bosnian Muslims), thousands of victims of rape (also mostly Bosnian Muslims), and the economic and cultural wreckage of the former Yugoslavia. His vision of a Greater Serbia resulted in the reality of a Lesser Serbia, reduced to the country as it existed in 1911, plus war booty taken from the Hungarians after World War I (Vojvodina in the north) and two unhappily acquired possessions that may soon be gone, Montenegro and Kosovo. Montenegro, annexed in 1918, is preparing a referendum on secession from its current 'federation' with Serbia for May of this year, and the 'final status' of Kosovo, conquered by Serbia in 1912, is being negotiated by the international community.
Milosevic will be remembered as the man who, at the end of the 20th century, reintroduced mass atrocities into a Europe that had ostensibly banished them forever. Milosevic's retro political style included 'ethnic cleansing' or mass expulsion; internment in concentration camps; grotesque torture and sexual terrorism; gratuitous slaughter of whole families, villages, and even the equivalent of a significant town--8,000 Muslim males at Srebrenica, and the systematic destruction of holy places and cultural landmarks. All was carried out by lawless gangs and 'militias,' in addition to the Yugoslav army.
Some Western 'realists,' looking for excuses not to act, could not help asserting the moral equivalence of Milosevic and his victims. But neither the Croats, nor the Bosnian Muslims, nor the Kosovar Albanians ever attacked Serbia or Montenegro. In an attempt at psychological distancing from the crimes of the Belgrade regime, some Westerners harped endlessly on Croatian and Bosnian Muslim collaboration with the Nazis in the Second World War, even though as many or more Croats were anti-fascist Partisans as helped the Nazis, and Bosnian Muslim clerics interceded on behalf of Jewish and Serb victims of the Germans.
Milosevic, the man pushed to the foreground by the crisis, was a mediocrity, like Saddam Hussein or, for that matter, his hero Stalin. Milosevic was a product of Communist rule in a remote provincial town, Pozarevac, in Serbia, and of a narrow, bureaucratic culture. There is no evidence that he cared about the Serb people or Serbian traditions; but he certainly loved authority over others. When he gained power, after working his way through the Tito party system, he used it to posture as a world-historical figure. But he was similar to Vladimir Putin in Russia: an empty vessel waiting to be filled by new ideologies or mafia business opportunities once communism ended.
It is appropriate that Milosevic was an ally of Saddam, who also killed quite a few Muslims--and an ally of other anti-Americans. Evil finds its compatriots. So Iraq supplied energy-poor Serbia with oil. Iraq contracted with Serbia for sophisticated weapons and their maintenance. Serbia had a WMD program, including a nuclear bomb effort dating from the Tito years, finally shut down only in 2002, when enough highly enriched uranium for at least two nuclear weapons was removed from an institute near Belgrade in a joint U.S.-Russian effort supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Milosevic was also, in his time, supported by the late, unlamented Yasser Arafat, who even invited him to Bethlehem, in the territory of the Palestinian Authority. (Israel blocked the trip by making it clear that, as a good member of the United Nations, it would arrest Milosevic and hand him over to The Hague.) What counted to people like Saddam and Arafat was, of course, Serbia's confrontation with America, not its attempted genocide of Bosnian Muslims. And when the U.S.-led coalition went into Iraq in 2003 to remove Saddam (who incidentally was a more direct threat to American interests in 2003 than Milosevic was in 1999), many of the same people opposed that intervention as well. Some acted out of decent motives and made respectable arguments--and some simply liked dictators and hated America. So Slobodan and Saddam ended up sharing the legal help of the disgraceful Ramsey Clark.
Yet the suffering of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Balkan war of 1992-95 produced important effects. The nightmare of Bosnia--all those people killed only for their names, the rapes, the mosques destroyed down to their foundations--affected Muslims throughout the world, as did the apparent indifference of much of 'Christian Europe' to the horror. After all, British policy was shaped not by Lady Thatcher, but by the cruelly shortsighted team of Lord Carrington, Lord Douglas Hurd, and Lord David Owen. U.S. policy did not follow the path recommended by Ronald Reagan or John McCain. It was based first on the pseudo-'realism' of James Baker, then left at the mercy of the fecklessness of Warren Christopher.
So Muslims around the world have not forgotten Bosnia. While Westerners tend to dismiss the Balkans as a fringe area of the Islamic world, many Muslims view Bosnian Islam with respect. Precisely because it suffered, and defended itself, and survived as a community of Islamic believers in the heart of Europe, Bosnia has credibility and prestige among Muslims, from Saudi dissidents to Malayan Sufis.
Bosnian Islam, which showed its moderation during the recent war, therefore represents a real asset for a Europe coming to grips with the Islamic challenge. In the middle of the uproar and shouts--and some brutal slayings--accompanying the recent controversy over the Danish cartoons, the chief Muslim cleric of Bosnia, Mustafa Ceric, issued a Declaration to European Muslims. In an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty accompanying the declaration, Ceric described the text as 'a personal act . . . sending a message to the Western audience that we, Bosnian Muslims, did not agree with the terrorist attacks in New York on September 11, 2001, on March 11, 2004, in Madrid, on July 7, 2005, in London.'
In the declaration itself, Ceric writes sharply, 'Muslims should not be afraid to think about their future in the same way as they should not be possessed by their past. . . . Not only have Muslims failed to produce a genuine idea of globalization, but they are, generally speaking, failing now at living in a global world.' In an introduction to the declaration, Ceric argues, 'Muslims must realize that the general feeling about their faith in Europe today is unfavorable. European Muslims must take the issue of violence in the name of Islam very seriously, not because some people hate Islam and Muslims, but because the act of violence, the act of terror, the act of hatred in the name of Islam is wrong. . . .European Muslims must develop a program for anti-violence.' Ceric reproaches the ruling caste in Muslim countries that 'claims to defend Islam, but, in fact . . . uses (or misuses) Islam to cover up its own shortcomings.'
Bosnians like Ceric survived the time of Milosevic without sharing in the evil he represented. Such Bosnians can serve as intellectual and moral examples for moderate Muslims around the world. And Europeans can benefit from treating them as trustworthy partners. The death of Milosevic does not close the book on the disaster of the Yugoslav wars; major criminals remain at large. But the fact that Balkan Muslims remained stubbornly commited to civilized values is notable. It deserves to be remembered as people of good will contemplate the future of Islam in Europe and beyond.