Bosnia: A Way Out
Jude Wanniski
July 17, 1995


In a May 16, 1993 Washington Post essay, Henry Kissinger made the flat statement: 'The most irresponsible mistake of the current Bosnian tragedy was international recognition of a Bosnian state governed by Muslims!' We had been making the same wholly unconventional argument, which is why we were startled to find this pillar of the political Establishment decrying the recognition of Bosnia as an independent nation-state. Indeed, Kissinger's protege, Lawrence Eagleberger, had been Secretary of State in the Bush Administration when this "most irresponsible mistake" was made.

The reason we now confront the Bosnian crisis in such vivid colors, of course, is because the Establishment has refused to acknowledge the enormous blunder it made four years ago. The people responsible for the blunder don't like to admit enormous blunders. Who does? They include Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who was led down this garden path by advisors such as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, geopolitical Cold War strategists Albert Wohlstetter and Richard Perle, and a staff assistant who had a personal score to settle with the Serbs. Their pro-Muslim bias has had resonance with the big thinkers at The New York Times (William Safire and Anthony Lewis) and at The Wall Street Journal (Robert L. Bartiey and George Melloan). Melloan was editorial page editor of the WSJ's European edition when the "irresponsible mistake" was made. In his "Global View" column this morning, he argues that as long as President Clinton has committed himself to send 25,000 troops to Bosnia to help extricate the U.N. peacekeepers, "why not let them fight in a way that will punish the Serbian aggressors, rather than becoming additional victims of U.N. foul-ups?"

On the track we are on, that is exactly what will happen. Pushed relentlessly in this direction by his pals, Senator Dole is now once again arguing for a unilateral lifting of the U.N. arms embargo against Bosnia, which the Clinton administration is correctly arguing would "Americanize" the war. The Democrats would happily pull the trapdoor on Dole and the GOP, which leads down the old slippery slope. In Sunday's New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman penned an absolutely incredible "Foreign Affairs" column that takes us back to Kissinger's statement of two years ago. Friedman, whose fingerprints are not on the original blunder, says it is now "time for just a little bit of honesty here. For four years we have been lying to ourselves, lying to the world and lying to the Muslims about what was possible. The only way to end this war is to start with the truth."

He finds the "truth" with George Kenney, the State Department desk officer for Yugoslavia who resigned in protest in August 1992 over the failure of the U.S. to intervene in Bosnia. Kenney, it now turns out, agrees with Kissinger!!! 'The truth is we never should have recognized Bosnia or Croatia as independent states. We were intervening in a messy civil war and the only solution now is a messy map and a power-sharing arrangement that begins to untangle it." The key words here are CIVIL WAR. Once we accept that raw fact that there is no Serbian aggression, all justification for U.S. military involvement dissolves. What we have is a civil war in the Yugoslav federation, a civil war whose origins were in the 1987 financial interventions of the International Monetary Fund. We first made this argument in a May 5, 1993 missive, 'The IMF and the Balkan Crisis." The "truth" by our lights is the following:

1. In 1987, the IMF directed economic policy for Belgrade, urging the same "shock therapy" policies that caused the disintegration of the Russian federation. Serbia is an ally of Moscow, which is why American Cold Warriors supported these "shock therapy" policies as a means of bringing about disintegration of these federations. Currency devaluations and tax increases brought about the financial collapse of Yugoslavia's economy.

2. In 1991-92, the two richest of the states, Croatia and Slovenia, announced their secession from the federation. As Alexander Hamilton had argued in The Federalist papers 200 years earlier, rich states would of course be tempted to secede from federations when under distress in public finance, unless a mechanism like the U.S. Constitution would bind them to the union. The Croats and Slovenes used their old ties to Germany to persuade the European bigwigs to persuade the United States to recognize the states upon secession.

3. Left behind were the remnants of Yugoslavia, with the Muslim leaders of the Bosnian "state" determined to secede and establish a sacerdotal, i.e., a Muslim fundamentalist state which would exclude non-Muslims from administration, education and mass media. In a referendum called February 29, 1992, all the Serbs and most of the Croats living in Bosnia abstained. Of the fraction that voted, 65% opted for independence as a nation-state. Unlike Croatia or Slovenia, Bosnia had never existed as a nation, merely as an administrative region since 1974.

4. Bosnian Serbs and Croats took up arms and demanded sovereignty over the territory they controlled. In March 1992, a conference in Lisbon of the three distinct groups agreed to and signed onto the existing de facto division of territory the Serbs controlling 60%, Croats 10% and Muslims 30%, mostly urban. Ignoring this agreement, the European Community on April 6, the U.S. on April 7, the U.N. on May 22 recognized the Bosnian Muslims as the government of all of Bosnia. The Muslims, of course, repudiated the Lisbon agreement and hostilities commenced.

5. The Serbs clearly "won the war" by the summer of 1993, but the Muslims have refused to sue for peace. As George Kenney puts it succinctly: "Let's be honest, the Muslims lost this war two years ago. But they keep waiting for the Western cavalry to come over the hill and it isn't coming." They should, he says, recognize that 1.2 million Muslims cannot stand up against nine million Serbs.

6. In the July 17 Time, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic suggests that if the United States would lift the economic embargo on Serbia, the Muslims would no longer hold out hopes that Serbia will some day relent. He believes they would then become serious about a peace plan involving confederation. He promises to persuade his Bosnia brethren to cut a deal, all within six months.

It sounds good to me. Milosevic has the correct vision of confederation. The Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and Muslims have been living next to each other for centuries, and will continue to do so for another several centuries. If we recognize the conflict for what it is a family feud instigated by the boundless incompetence of the IMF and other multinational bureaucracies of Europe we could easily wrap this all up by Christmas. But who will take the lead?