Commentary Magazine


Topic: Serbia

Putin’s Crimes and the Kosovo Precedent

Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Crimea as a “sovereign and independent state” today, formalizing the theft of the region from the Ukraine. The United States and the European Union have responded with outrage and with limited sanctions on prominent members of the Putin regime (though not their leader) that are doing nothing to convince the Russians that they have made a mistake. The next step appears to be a decision by Putin to annex Crimea that may happen tomorrow. As the U.S. prepares its reaction to this outrage, no one should be laboring under the illusion that there is anything that President Obama or the Europeans can do to restore Ukrainian sovereignty. But there is still time to save what is left of the Ukraine from further Russian aggression as well as to ensure that other independent republics that were once part of the Soviet empire don’t suffer the same fate.

Can the West summon the will to restrain Russia? Putin is under the impression that President Obama is all talk and probably thinks even less of the Europeans. He has already calculated that serious economic sanctions on his country would be as painful for the EU as they are for Moscow. He knows that Obama is more interested in managing U.S. retrenchment from world-power status than in maintaining America’s credibility as a force on the world stage. He is also aware that growing isolationist sentiment on both the right and the left is sapping support for a strong stand in defense of Ukraine.

It is on that point that we should focus today in the aftermath of the staged plebiscite that took place in the Crimea lending the imprimatur of democratic legitimacy to Putin’s land grab. The Rand Paul isolationist wing of the Republican Party (as opposed to the followers of Ron Paul, who is an open Putin apologist) is making noises about this not being America’s fight as well as faintly echoing Putin’s main talking point about the stripping away of Crimea from the Ukraine being no different from the Western-backed secession of Kosovo from Serbia in 1999. Though there are superficial similarities between the two cases, this analogy should be completely rejected.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Crimea as a “sovereign and independent state” today, formalizing the theft of the region from the Ukraine. The United States and the European Union have responded with outrage and with limited sanctions on prominent members of the Putin regime (though not their leader) that are doing nothing to convince the Russians that they have made a mistake. The next step appears to be a decision by Putin to annex Crimea that may happen tomorrow. As the U.S. prepares its reaction to this outrage, no one should be laboring under the illusion that there is anything that President Obama or the Europeans can do to restore Ukrainian sovereignty. But there is still time to save what is left of the Ukraine from further Russian aggression as well as to ensure that other independent republics that were once part of the Soviet empire don’t suffer the same fate.

Can the West summon the will to restrain Russia? Putin is under the impression that President Obama is all talk and probably thinks even less of the Europeans. He has already calculated that serious economic sanctions on his country would be as painful for the EU as they are for Moscow. He knows that Obama is more interested in managing U.S. retrenchment from world-power status than in maintaining America’s credibility as a force on the world stage. He is also aware that growing isolationist sentiment on both the right and the left is sapping support for a strong stand in defense of Ukraine.

It is on that point that we should focus today in the aftermath of the staged plebiscite that took place in the Crimea lending the imprimatur of democratic legitimacy to Putin’s land grab. The Rand Paul isolationist wing of the Republican Party (as opposed to the followers of Ron Paul, who is an open Putin apologist) is making noises about this not being America’s fight as well as faintly echoing Putin’s main talking point about the stripping away of Crimea from the Ukraine being no different from the Western-backed secession of Kosovo from Serbia in 1999. Though there are superficial similarities between the two cases, this analogy should be completely rejected.

It is true that at the time the Russians, who were supporting Serbia, warned that a dangerous precedent was set when the United States and its NATO allies decided that Serbia should no longer be allowed to exercise its sovereignty over the province of Kosovo. Like the Ukrainians, the Serbs protested that the complaints of the Kosovars notwithstanding, the West had no right to decide that Serbia’s internationally recognized borders could be redrawn without Belgrade’s permission.

But unlike the situation in Ukraine, Serbian nationalists had created a genuine human-rights crisis in Kosovo with vicious repression of the ethnic Albanian majority in the region. Though Serbia had deep historic ties to Kosovo dating back to the Middle Ages, their rule there had lost its legitimacy due to their depredations that seemed to be a repeat of the horrors that Serbs had perpetrated in Bosnia only a few years earlier. Rather than stand by and watch the slaughter, this time the West intervened and a bombing campaign forced the Serbs to surrender the province. While this could have been seen as a bloodless war to create a greater Albania, in retrospect there’s little doubt that it was the right thing to do. The campaign prevented a potential catastrophe and ended the series of bloody Balkan wars that had followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

What has happened in Ukraine is nothing like that. Instead of an intervention by a great power to save people in a small country, Putin’s gambit is an attempt by a large power to victimize a small country. Though Putin has claimed he is intervening to save the ethnic Russians in the Ukraine, they were in no danger. The only potential human-rights problem is the result of Russian aggression in which ethnic Tatars in the Crimea now feel as if they are about to be squeezed out of a land where they were once the majority.

As Hillary Clinton rightly pointed out, Adolf Hitler patented the notion that local ethnic majorities can be used to tear nations apart in the 1930s. While Putin is no Hitler, his use of Russian nationalism to partition Ukraine threatens the independence and the sovereignty of every independent state in the former Soviet Union. It should be remembered that Ukraine’s independence is guaranteed by a treaty signed by the United States, as are those of other free nations in the region such as the Baltic states.

In allowing Kosovo to be sheared off from Serbia, President Clinton did potentially set a precedent that could be used by tyrants like Putin to threaten other small states. But the real precedent that governs actions such as the events in Kosovo and what is now going on in the former Soviet Union goes back farther than 1999.

Countries that use their sovereignty to victimize other, small peoples and nations effectively forfeit their rights in such situations. Just as Germany’s aggression rendered the complaints of ethnic Germans in Central Europe a mere pretext for atrocities, so too did the actions of the Serbs when they ran amok in the Balkans in the 1990s. Yet rather than legitimizing Russia’s conduct today, the opposite is true.

By smearing Ukraine and committing aggression on false pretexts, it is Russia that has forfeited its right to speak for ethnic Russians outside of its borders or to have its claims over the far-flung territories of the former Soviet empire respected. If there is a Kosovo precedent that applies here it is the one between Serbian aggression and the crimes being committed by the Putin regime. It is to be hoped that Western leaders understand this and won’t let any worries about Russian economic leverage or its claims of popular sovereignty undermine the West’s determination not to let Putin get away with this crime without paying a hefty price. 

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The End of Obama’s Non-Peace-Talk Charade

No surprise here:

In perhaps the shortest round of peace negotiations in the history of their conflict, talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have ground to a halt and show little sign of resuming.

But this explanation has to make one smile:

Pressure to restart the talks eased after the Arab League said it would wait a month — until Nov. 8 — before ending Abbas’s mandate for negotiations, thus pushing the issue beyond the U.S. midterm elections. But if Republicans score big gains, some Israelis argue, that could limit Obama’s ability to pressure Israel to make concessions.

Because, for all the whining about making Israel a partisan issue, there is no doubt that support for Israel and opposition to Obama’s pitched assault on it are strongest on the Republican side of the aisle.

The extent of the administration’s naivete and incompetence is something to behold (my comments in brackets):

The Obama administration, worried that the impending end of the settlement freeze would leave a potentially dangerous vacuum, rushed forward with talks without a plan for dealing with the end of the moratorium, analysts say. The hope was that sheer momentum would carry the talks forward. [What momentum?]

That decision has come with costs, including some to Obama’s credibility. [Some? It does rather shatter it, no?] The president invested his personal prestige in launching the talks, and even appealed to Israel to extend the freeze during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly. [Because he imagined that the sheer swellness of himself, coupled with threats, could achieve what the Israelis plainly said was unacceptable?]

The Palestinians, taking their cue from previous administration statements, have made a settlement freeze a key requirement for continued talks, so any reversal in that stance would make them appear weak. Netanyahu, concerned about the impact an extension of the freeze would have on his right-leaning coalition, has put new demands on the table, such as upfront Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. [In other words, he screwed up the whole thing.]

Having demonstrated that the U.S. is such a feckless friend of Israel and an unreliable interlocutor for the PA, Obama now faces the prospect that his beloved multilateral institution will try to dismember the Jewish state:

“We are going to go to Washington to recognize a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. If that doesn’t work, we’ll go to the U.N. Security Council and will ask Washington not to veto,” [PA negotiator Muhammad] Shatayeh said. If Washington vetoes, he said, then the Palestinians will appeal to the U.N. General Assembly.

Does the UN General Assembly have such power? Two foreign policy experts tell me that the involvement of the UN General Assembly is not unprecedented in such matters. The General Assembly was responsible for the 1947 partition. More recently, as they gurus explained, “after Kosovo declared its independence, Serbia asked the U.N. General Assembly to intervene and U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion, which it did.”

General Assembly resolutions are not, strictly speaking, binding. But legality is not the issue; this is a thugocracy, after all, which has been empowered and elevated by none other than Barack Obama. It is hard to believe that a single administration in just two years could have made such hash out of Middle East policy.

No surprise here:

In perhaps the shortest round of peace negotiations in the history of their conflict, talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have ground to a halt and show little sign of resuming.

But this explanation has to make one smile:

Pressure to restart the talks eased after the Arab League said it would wait a month — until Nov. 8 — before ending Abbas’s mandate for negotiations, thus pushing the issue beyond the U.S. midterm elections. But if Republicans score big gains, some Israelis argue, that could limit Obama’s ability to pressure Israel to make concessions.

Because, for all the whining about making Israel a partisan issue, there is no doubt that support for Israel and opposition to Obama’s pitched assault on it are strongest on the Republican side of the aisle.

The extent of the administration’s naivete and incompetence is something to behold (my comments in brackets):

The Obama administration, worried that the impending end of the settlement freeze would leave a potentially dangerous vacuum, rushed forward with talks without a plan for dealing with the end of the moratorium, analysts say. The hope was that sheer momentum would carry the talks forward. [What momentum?]

That decision has come with costs, including some to Obama’s credibility. [Some? It does rather shatter it, no?] The president invested his personal prestige in launching the talks, and even appealed to Israel to extend the freeze during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly. [Because he imagined that the sheer swellness of himself, coupled with threats, could achieve what the Israelis plainly said was unacceptable?]

The Palestinians, taking their cue from previous administration statements, have made a settlement freeze a key requirement for continued talks, so any reversal in that stance would make them appear weak. Netanyahu, concerned about the impact an extension of the freeze would have on his right-leaning coalition, has put new demands on the table, such as upfront Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. [In other words, he screwed up the whole thing.]

Having demonstrated that the U.S. is such a feckless friend of Israel and an unreliable interlocutor for the PA, Obama now faces the prospect that his beloved multilateral institution will try to dismember the Jewish state:

“We are going to go to Washington to recognize a Palestinian state on 1967 borders. If that doesn’t work, we’ll go to the U.N. Security Council and will ask Washington not to veto,” [PA negotiator Muhammad] Shatayeh said. If Washington vetoes, he said, then the Palestinians will appeal to the U.N. General Assembly.

Does the UN General Assembly have such power? Two foreign policy experts tell me that the involvement of the UN General Assembly is not unprecedented in such matters. The General Assembly was responsible for the 1947 partition. More recently, as they gurus explained, “after Kosovo declared its independence, Serbia asked the U.N. General Assembly to intervene and U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion, which it did.”

General Assembly resolutions are not, strictly speaking, binding. But legality is not the issue; this is a thugocracy, after all, which has been empowered and elevated by none other than Barack Obama. It is hard to believe that a single administration in just two years could have made such hash out of Middle East policy.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: A Sidelight on the ICJ’s Kosovo Decision

Yesterday, the International Court of Justice, in a nonbinding opinion that resulted from a referral from the UN General Assembly at Serbia’s behest, ruled that Kosovo’s breakaway from Serbia was not illegal because “general international law contains no applicable prohibition on declarations of independence.” Well, that’s a relief.

On its merits, the opinion was correct. But this is exactly the kind of fundamentally political question that cannot be settled by the courts – especially not an international court. If the ICJ had decided that Kosovo’s independence was illegal, it would in theory have committed itself and the UN to reversing it. That could only be done by force applied by the so-called international community against Kosovo. There was and is not the slightest chance of that. The ICJ would have done better to refuse to accept the referral on the grounds that the matter was outside its competence.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

Yesterday, the International Court of Justice, in a nonbinding opinion that resulted from a referral from the UN General Assembly at Serbia’s behest, ruled that Kosovo’s breakaway from Serbia was not illegal because “general international law contains no applicable prohibition on declarations of independence.” Well, that’s a relief.

On its merits, the opinion was correct. But this is exactly the kind of fundamentally political question that cannot be settled by the courts – especially not an international court. If the ICJ had decided that Kosovo’s independence was illegal, it would in theory have committed itself and the UN to reversing it. That could only be done by force applied by the so-called international community against Kosovo. There was and is not the slightest chance of that. The ICJ would have done better to refuse to accept the referral on the grounds that the matter was outside its competence.

To read the rest of this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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New Best Friends in the Balkans

Some news you might have missed last week: Serbia and Turkey have inaugurated a series of unprecedented initiatives of military and diplomatic cooperation, including joint aviation exercises and a mutual abolition of visas. The timing of these gallantries is rather ironic, as it coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which marks the extermination of nearly 8,000 Bosnians, mostly boys and men, as well as the ethnic cleansing of some 25,000 to 30,000 more — which extermination and concomitant ethnic cleansing the Serb perpetrators justified in the name of “driving out the Turks” (i.e., the Bosnian Muslims).

This was the first year the Serbian government ever condemned the massacre — a humbling gesture aimed at smoothing its path toward EU membership. Some may consider this an occasion of which Serbia has availed itself in order to also mend fences with Turkey — a party its war slogans of 15 years ago had indirectly offended. But it is far more likely that the two developments bear no more relation to each other than did the Serbs’ genocide against the Bosnians and their animosity toward the Turks — which is to say, none at all.

What this newly forged friendship between Serbia and Turkey actually represents is a miniature replica of the trend in the relationship between their respective patrons, Russia and Iran, who have recently grown very close. For, of late, Turkey has become a firm node of the Iran-Syria-Venezuela axis, and as for Serbia, well — as an independent state, Serbia has not exercised any political free will of its own since the Middle Ages without first consulting Russia’s interests. And while under that whipped fluff of much-talked-about UN sanctions the ties between Iran and Russia continue to flourish, so do those between their proxies in the Balkans.

The club of disaffected anti-Western regimes is growing. And they look like a relatively enlightened bunch these days, since they certainly don’t make much of religious differences. When they do, it’s only to their own people, and that, only for the perfectly understandable purpose of inciting politically useful hatreds in them. Among allies, however, respect and tolerance reign supreme.

Some news you might have missed last week: Serbia and Turkey have inaugurated a series of unprecedented initiatives of military and diplomatic cooperation, including joint aviation exercises and a mutual abolition of visas. The timing of these gallantries is rather ironic, as it coincides with the 15th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, which marks the extermination of nearly 8,000 Bosnians, mostly boys and men, as well as the ethnic cleansing of some 25,000 to 30,000 more — which extermination and concomitant ethnic cleansing the Serb perpetrators justified in the name of “driving out the Turks” (i.e., the Bosnian Muslims).

This was the first year the Serbian government ever condemned the massacre — a humbling gesture aimed at smoothing its path toward EU membership. Some may consider this an occasion of which Serbia has availed itself in order to also mend fences with Turkey — a party its war slogans of 15 years ago had indirectly offended. But it is far more likely that the two developments bear no more relation to each other than did the Serbs’ genocide against the Bosnians and their animosity toward the Turks — which is to say, none at all.

What this newly forged friendship between Serbia and Turkey actually represents is a miniature replica of the trend in the relationship between their respective patrons, Russia and Iran, who have recently grown very close. For, of late, Turkey has become a firm node of the Iran-Syria-Venezuela axis, and as for Serbia, well — as an independent state, Serbia has not exercised any political free will of its own since the Middle Ages without first consulting Russia’s interests. And while under that whipped fluff of much-talked-about UN sanctions the ties between Iran and Russia continue to flourish, so do those between their proxies in the Balkans.

The club of disaffected anti-Western regimes is growing. And they look like a relatively enlightened bunch these days, since they certainly don’t make much of religious differences. When they do, it’s only to their own people, and that, only for the perfectly understandable purpose of inciting politically useful hatreds in them. Among allies, however, respect and tolerance reign supreme.

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Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Program: The Think Tanks Speak Out

Two high-profile think-tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Oxford Research Group of London, have put out updates this summer to their earlier assessments (from 2008 and 2006, respectively) of the options for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Both of them conclude that, given the limitations of Israel’s military capabilities, the backlash from Iran in the event of an Israeli attack would outweigh the significance of the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program. Both assessments effectively assume there is no possibility of a U.S. attack. They ultimately draw different conclusions about what policies are suggested by their analyses. But it’s of equal importance, in July 2010, that their treatments of the factors in an Israeli strike are almost certainly outdated.

The Oxford Research Group (ORG) assessment builds up to the well-worn punch line that the world’s leaders need to redouble their efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which could inaugurate “the beginning of a prospect of a regional nuclear-free zone.” This is the paper’s principal policy recommendation; its alternative is accepting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and using that “as the start of a process of balanced regional denuclearization.” No serious justification is presented for either idea.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC’s) approach is more realistic, recognizing the exceptional threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. BPC urges on national leaders a three-track policy of unified diplomacy, sanctions, and a military build-up to show force and determination. The discussion of Iran’s imperviousness to nuclear deterrence (pp. 30-33) is particularly good; in general, I recommend the more analytically detailed BPC paper as a thinking aid over the terser ORG product. (The latter does have a useful section on the possibility of unexpected incidents provoked by Hezbollah, which could incite an exchange between Israel and Iran.)

I urge skepticism, however, in evaluating the main conclusion of each paper about Israel’s likely effectiveness in a military attack. Both assessments are pessimistic, but they appear to be based on outdated assumptions – two, in particular, that involve very basic perspectives. One is the idea that in attacking Iran, Israel’s sole objective would be to destroy as much of the nuclear program as possible. Although the ORG paper cautions against seeing a prospective attack on Iran in the same narrow light as the previous strikes on single sites in Iraq and Syria, the author tacitly adopts a view of the objective that is precisely that narrow. He assumes, for example, that Israel would prioritize attacking the offices and living quarters of scientists and technicians, on the theory that reconstituting that expertise would be especially time-consuming for Iran.

I disagree with that assumption. The BPC analysis seems to share it in the abstract, but I suspect that Israeli planners, knowing their force limitations, have moved beyond such linear thinking at this point. It would be a much higher-payoff approach to concentrate on taking out the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guard, including the Pasdaran leadership and the paramilitary Qods Force. The most important nuclear sites – Natanz, Esfahan, Arak, key facilities in Tehran – would have to be struck, but given the IDF’s limits, it would pay off better to use scarce assets against the regime’s power base (and its ability to organize and command its military) than against its scientific experts.

The other assumption that may well be outdated is that, given the operational constraints on an Israeli air strike, the IDF could achieve only an unsatisfactory level of damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Israel now wields the same airborne-attack weapons the U.S. brought to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and would be far more effective with each attacking aircraft than the Coalition was against Iraq in 1991 (or the U.S. against Serbia in 1999). Meanwhile, Israel’s other options – extremely capable Special Forces, an advanced armed-drone program, and the ability to attack with ballistic missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles – are treated too dismissively in both the U.S. and European analyses. The truth is that we don’t have any state-of-the-art examples to go by in judging the probable effectiveness of this weapons combination. We are more likely to learn from a coordinated Israeli attack featuring these weapons than to see all our worst-case predictions borne out.

Writing off an Israeli attack as quixotic and operationally valueless is a political posture more than an expert conclusion. There is a cost-benefit boundary for the IDF, but it’s not the hardening of Iranian targets or the proliferation of uranium-enrichment sites: it’s whether Iran can implement a modern air-defense system, like the (for now) cancelled S-300. An effective air defense for Iran would inevitably increase the cost of an Israeli attack and reduce its success.

But for Israel’s security situation, every delay imposed on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has value. The U.S. should act on its own initiative rather than waiting to be driven to action by a fait accompli from Jerusalem; the BPC document’s perspective is realistic and helpful in that regard. No one, however, should entertain the theme that it’s too late now for an Israeli attack to achieve useful effects. For Israel – and for the U.S., with our much greater military capabilities – there are still options other than acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Two high-profile think-tanks, the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and the Oxford Research Group of London, have put out updates this summer to their earlier assessments (from 2008 and 2006, respectively) of the options for preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Both of them conclude that, given the limitations of Israel’s military capabilities, the backlash from Iran in the event of an Israeli attack would outweigh the significance of the damage done to Iran’s nuclear program. Both assessments effectively assume there is no possibility of a U.S. attack. They ultimately draw different conclusions about what policies are suggested by their analyses. But it’s of equal importance, in July 2010, that their treatments of the factors in an Israeli strike are almost certainly outdated.

The Oxford Research Group (ORG) assessment builds up to the well-worn punch line that the world’s leaders need to redouble their efforts to secure an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, which could inaugurate “the beginning of a prospect of a regional nuclear-free zone.” This is the paper’s principal policy recommendation; its alternative is accepting Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and using that “as the start of a process of balanced regional denuclearization.” No serious justification is presented for either idea.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC’s) approach is more realistic, recognizing the exceptional threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran. BPC urges on national leaders a three-track policy of unified diplomacy, sanctions, and a military build-up to show force and determination. The discussion of Iran’s imperviousness to nuclear deterrence (pp. 30-33) is particularly good; in general, I recommend the more analytically detailed BPC paper as a thinking aid over the terser ORG product. (The latter does have a useful section on the possibility of unexpected incidents provoked by Hezbollah, which could incite an exchange between Israel and Iran.)

I urge skepticism, however, in evaluating the main conclusion of each paper about Israel’s likely effectiveness in a military attack. Both assessments are pessimistic, but they appear to be based on outdated assumptions – two, in particular, that involve very basic perspectives. One is the idea that in attacking Iran, Israel’s sole objective would be to destroy as much of the nuclear program as possible. Although the ORG paper cautions against seeing a prospective attack on Iran in the same narrow light as the previous strikes on single sites in Iraq and Syria, the author tacitly adopts a view of the objective that is precisely that narrow. He assumes, for example, that Israel would prioritize attacking the offices and living quarters of scientists and technicians, on the theory that reconstituting that expertise would be especially time-consuming for Iran.

I disagree with that assumption. The BPC analysis seems to share it in the abstract, but I suspect that Israeli planners, knowing their force limitations, have moved beyond such linear thinking at this point. It would be a much higher-payoff approach to concentrate on taking out the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guard, including the Pasdaran leadership and the paramilitary Qods Force. The most important nuclear sites – Natanz, Esfahan, Arak, key facilities in Tehran – would have to be struck, but given the IDF’s limits, it would pay off better to use scarce assets against the regime’s power base (and its ability to organize and command its military) than against its scientific experts.

The other assumption that may well be outdated is that, given the operational constraints on an Israeli air strike, the IDF could achieve only an unsatisfactory level of damage to the Iranian nuclear program. Israel now wields the same airborne-attack weapons the U.S. brought to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and would be far more effective with each attacking aircraft than the Coalition was against Iraq in 1991 (or the U.S. against Serbia in 1999). Meanwhile, Israel’s other options – extremely capable Special Forces, an advanced armed-drone program, and the ability to attack with ballistic missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles – are treated too dismissively in both the U.S. and European analyses. The truth is that we don’t have any state-of-the-art examples to go by in judging the probable effectiveness of this weapons combination. We are more likely to learn from a coordinated Israeli attack featuring these weapons than to see all our worst-case predictions borne out.

Writing off an Israeli attack as quixotic and operationally valueless is a political posture more than an expert conclusion. There is a cost-benefit boundary for the IDF, but it’s not the hardening of Iranian targets or the proliferation of uranium-enrichment sites: it’s whether Iran can implement a modern air-defense system, like the (for now) cancelled S-300. An effective air defense for Iran would inevitably increase the cost of an Israeli attack and reduce its success.

But for Israel’s security situation, every delay imposed on Iran’s nuclear-weapons program has value. The U.S. should act on its own initiative rather than waiting to be driven to action by a fait accompli from Jerusalem; the BPC document’s perspective is realistic and helpful in that regard. No one, however, should entertain the theme that it’s too late now for an Israeli attack to achieve useful effects. For Israel – and for the U.S., with our much greater military capabilities – there are still options other than acceptance of a nuclear-armed Iran.

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Bullets Over Bangkok

As with most such outbreaks, there are legitimate grievances behind the protests being mounted by the “Red Shirts” of Thailand. That truth renders the events there even more strongly reminiscent than they might otherwise be of similar incidents around the globe during the Cold War. Thailand’s precarious situation could spiral out of control very easily. It is not at present being driven by outside forces or even apparently being exploited by them. But U.S. influence in the region is at stake along with Thai democracy. If a consensual stability is not restored in favor of the status quo long presided over by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, there will be no lack of interested outsiders seeking to shape Thailand’s future.

Most readers are familiar with the basic narrative about populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from power in a military coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption charges in 2008. A February 2010 court decision ordering him to return $1.4 billion to the state was ostensibly the precipitating event for this spring’s prolonged protests by his Red Shirt supporters.

But fewer may be aware that Thaksin’s search for quarters in exile landed him this spring in Montenegro, the autonomous coastal province of Serbia that has become famous for its special relationship with Russia. Thaksin now holds a Montenegrin passport and has reportedly visited Russia during this year’s period of Thai unrest. The sitting prime minister of Thailand, for his part, is not leaving Russia uncourted. The Bangkok Post noted last week that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva plans to visit Moscow himself in early June, in spite of having canceled trips to the U.S., Vietnam, and Australia because of the unrest at home.

Russia’s interest is as much in drawing Thailand away from China as it is in cooling the traditional warmth between Bangkok and Washington. The year 2009 saw an unprecedented agreement between China and the Abhisit government to hold a joint military exercise billed as a rival to the “Cobra Gold” series with the U.S., the recurring Thai-hosted war game that draws up to 15,000 troops from the U.S. and East Asian nations. Growing military cooperation between Thailand and China is a continuation of policy inaugurated under Thaksin Shinawatra; efforts to cultivate or preempt such cooperation are in prospect regardless of who comes out on top in Thailand. Meanwhile, Russia’s re-energized ties with Vietnam, which now include a major arms deal and ongoing improvements to the naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, position the Russians next door to Thailand — as well as athwart China’s strategic vista to the south.

Adding to the prospect of instability is the Malay Muslim minority in southern Thailand. The Malay Muslims have taken a back seat to the Red Shirts this year, but their restiveness has by no means subsided. They will seek to take advantage of any evidence of weakness in the regime. The likelihood that they will have outside help is strong if the fate of Thailand is in doubt.

Regional observers think King Bhumibol will have to step in as he did in 1992 and demand that the opposing factions settle their differences. But this very critical view of that option, from Australia’s center-left Sydney Morning Herald, implies a reason (other than his ill health) why he hasn’t done that yet: it might not work. An ineffective royal appeal would be the signal for political chaos.

On the other hand, the status quo in Thailand cannot continue for much longer anyway. Bhumibol is 82, and his oldest son is unpopular. Although this situation is rife with difficult issues, the Obama administration should surely be doing more than closing the U.S. embassy in Bangkok to business, evacuating American personnel, and being “deeply concerned,” as State Department spokesmen have reported in daily briefings for the last six weeks.

It’s worth noting that Russia is not evacuating any diplomatic personnel from Bangkok. Moscow and Beijing are more determined than Obama is to play a major role in restoring stability to Thailand. That will not work in our favor. American influence in Asia is heading the same direction as our influence in the Middle East.

As with most such outbreaks, there are legitimate grievances behind the protests being mounted by the “Red Shirts” of Thailand. That truth renders the events there even more strongly reminiscent than they might otherwise be of similar incidents around the globe during the Cold War. Thailand’s precarious situation could spiral out of control very easily. It is not at present being driven by outside forces or even apparently being exploited by them. But U.S. influence in the region is at stake along with Thai democracy. If a consensual stability is not restored in favor of the status quo long presided over by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, there will be no lack of interested outsiders seeking to shape Thailand’s future.

Most readers are familiar with the basic narrative about populist politician Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted from power in a military coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption charges in 2008. A February 2010 court decision ordering him to return $1.4 billion to the state was ostensibly the precipitating event for this spring’s prolonged protests by his Red Shirt supporters.

But fewer may be aware that Thaksin’s search for quarters in exile landed him this spring in Montenegro, the autonomous coastal province of Serbia that has become famous for its special relationship with Russia. Thaksin now holds a Montenegrin passport and has reportedly visited Russia during this year’s period of Thai unrest. The sitting prime minister of Thailand, for his part, is not leaving Russia uncourted. The Bangkok Post noted last week that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva plans to visit Moscow himself in early June, in spite of having canceled trips to the U.S., Vietnam, and Australia because of the unrest at home.

Russia’s interest is as much in drawing Thailand away from China as it is in cooling the traditional warmth between Bangkok and Washington. The year 2009 saw an unprecedented agreement between China and the Abhisit government to hold a joint military exercise billed as a rival to the “Cobra Gold” series with the U.S., the recurring Thai-hosted war game that draws up to 15,000 troops from the U.S. and East Asian nations. Growing military cooperation between Thailand and China is a continuation of policy inaugurated under Thaksin Shinawatra; efforts to cultivate or preempt such cooperation are in prospect regardless of who comes out on top in Thailand. Meanwhile, Russia’s re-energized ties with Vietnam, which now include a major arms deal and ongoing improvements to the naval base at Cam Ranh Bay, position the Russians next door to Thailand — as well as athwart China’s strategic vista to the south.

Adding to the prospect of instability is the Malay Muslim minority in southern Thailand. The Malay Muslims have taken a back seat to the Red Shirts this year, but their restiveness has by no means subsided. They will seek to take advantage of any evidence of weakness in the regime. The likelihood that they will have outside help is strong if the fate of Thailand is in doubt.

Regional observers think King Bhumibol will have to step in as he did in 1992 and demand that the opposing factions settle their differences. But this very critical view of that option, from Australia’s center-left Sydney Morning Herald, implies a reason (other than his ill health) why he hasn’t done that yet: it might not work. An ineffective royal appeal would be the signal for political chaos.

On the other hand, the status quo in Thailand cannot continue for much longer anyway. Bhumibol is 82, and his oldest son is unpopular. Although this situation is rife with difficult issues, the Obama administration should surely be doing more than closing the U.S. embassy in Bangkok to business, evacuating American personnel, and being “deeply concerned,” as State Department spokesmen have reported in daily briefings for the last six weeks.

It’s worth noting that Russia is not evacuating any diplomatic personnel from Bangkok. Moscow and Beijing are more determined than Obama is to play a major role in restoring stability to Thailand. That will not work in our favor. American influence in Asia is heading the same direction as our influence in the Middle East.

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Kosovars Identify with Israel, Not Palestinians

What do Palestinians imagine an independent state will be like? After 16 years of Palestinian Authority and Hamas misrule in the West Bank and Gaza, we know it is not Shimon Peres’s vision of Benelux prosperity that he articulated in his faux visionary/comic 1993 book The New Middle East. According to Frida Ghitis, who writes in the Miami Herald, the answer is Kosovo.

Writing from Pristina, the capital of that Balkan enclave, Ghitis explains that Kosovo’s formula — a forced withdrawal of Serbian forces, followed by a unilateral declaration of independence and protection by international forces –- is worth emulating to some Palestinians. But as Ghitis rightly notes, the analogy between the Palestinians and the Kosovars is limited to their shared Muslim faith and desire for self-rule. Unlike Serbia, Israel has always been willing to live side by side with its Arab neighbors. Even more to the point:

Unlike Palestinians, Kosovars and their leaders never expressed a wish or intention to destroy all of Serbia. They never challenged Serbia’s right to exist, as Palestinians have about Israel. In fact, Kosovo’s new constitution affirms the nascent country has no designs on any more territory. Palestinians, even today, stand deeply divided in their aims. The charter of the radical Hamas, which rules Gaza, still calls for Israel’s destruction.

An even greater difference is the character of Kosovar and Palestinian political cultures, as Ghitis writes:

The differences between Kosovars and Palestinians are, in fact, so strong that many in Kosovo have identified more with Israelis than with Palestinians. About 90 percent of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians — secular Muslims — demographically overwhelmed in a region where they find themselves surrounded by tens of millions of ethnic Slavs. It’s a situation some Kosovars say resembles that of Israel, surrounded by hundreds millions of often-hostile Arabs.

The creation of a virtually independent Kosovo has not been without problems. It is, as any Palestinian state would be, an economic basket case, totally reliant not only on foreign protection but also foreign aid. Yet for all the misgivings we might have about NATO’s Kosovo commitment, unlike the Hamasistan in Gaza, Kosovo is not a lethal threat to the surrounding countries, and it is not allied with Iran. Salam Fayyad’s talk about a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence should be met with reminders that Kosovo is not a relevant model to the Middle East conflict. Until Palestinians resolve to put away terror and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Israel, talk of independence for the Palestinians is merely a tactic in their ongoing war against the Jews, not a bid for peace.

What do Palestinians imagine an independent state will be like? After 16 years of Palestinian Authority and Hamas misrule in the West Bank and Gaza, we know it is not Shimon Peres’s vision of Benelux prosperity that he articulated in his faux visionary/comic 1993 book The New Middle East. According to Frida Ghitis, who writes in the Miami Herald, the answer is Kosovo.

Writing from Pristina, the capital of that Balkan enclave, Ghitis explains that Kosovo’s formula — a forced withdrawal of Serbian forces, followed by a unilateral declaration of independence and protection by international forces –- is worth emulating to some Palestinians. But as Ghitis rightly notes, the analogy between the Palestinians and the Kosovars is limited to their shared Muslim faith and desire for self-rule. Unlike Serbia, Israel has always been willing to live side by side with its Arab neighbors. Even more to the point:

Unlike Palestinians, Kosovars and their leaders never expressed a wish or intention to destroy all of Serbia. They never challenged Serbia’s right to exist, as Palestinians have about Israel. In fact, Kosovo’s new constitution affirms the nascent country has no designs on any more territory. Palestinians, even today, stand deeply divided in their aims. The charter of the radical Hamas, which rules Gaza, still calls for Israel’s destruction.

An even greater difference is the character of Kosovar and Palestinian political cultures, as Ghitis writes:

The differences between Kosovars and Palestinians are, in fact, so strong that many in Kosovo have identified more with Israelis than with Palestinians. About 90 percent of Kosovars are ethnic Albanians — secular Muslims — demographically overwhelmed in a region where they find themselves surrounded by tens of millions of ethnic Slavs. It’s a situation some Kosovars say resembles that of Israel, surrounded by hundreds millions of often-hostile Arabs.

The creation of a virtually independent Kosovo has not been without problems. It is, as any Palestinian state would be, an economic basket case, totally reliant not only on foreign protection but also foreign aid. Yet for all the misgivings we might have about NATO’s Kosovo commitment, unlike the Hamasistan in Gaza, Kosovo is not a lethal threat to the surrounding countries, and it is not allied with Iran. Salam Fayyad’s talk about a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence should be met with reminders that Kosovo is not a relevant model to the Middle East conflict. Until Palestinians resolve to put away terror and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Israel, talk of independence for the Palestinians is merely a tactic in their ongoing war against the Jews, not a bid for peace.

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Human Rights Watch: The World Needs More Corrupt and Politicized “International Justice”

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.’”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

Predictable, of course. Clive Baldwin, a “senior legal adviser” to HRW, finds it “most embarrassing of all” that the British attorney general “gave a speech in Jerusalem on 5 January declaring that the government was ‘determined that Israel’s leaders should always be able to travel freely to the UK.’”

Can’t have that, can we?

This really isn’t about international justice, of course. It’s about the desire of many human-rights activists — today they unfortunately are almost exclusively drawn from the far Left — for more political power. Here’s how the international justice game is played:

Groups like HRW rely on fraudulent or biased testimony in Gaza and Lebanon (or Iraq) combined with creative interpretations of the “laws of war” to produce claims of war crimes; these claims are received as legitimate and trustworthy in UN bodies, among allied NGOs, and in the international press; activist lawyers use the now-laundered allegations to file universal jurisdiction lawsuits with sympathetic British judges; arrest warrants are issued. But then government officials recognize the awful reality of this politicized little merry-go-round and speak out against the practice — prompting HRW to protest that politicians are interfering in the independence of the court system. Chutzpah.

There are at least a few people left in the UK who understand the perniciousness of “universal jurisdiction.” One is MP Daniel Hannan, who wrote a terse seven-point refutation of the idea yesterday (h/t Andrew Stuttaford):

1. Territorial jurisdiction has been a remarkably successful concept. Ever since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, it has been broadly understood that crimes are the responsibility of the state where they are committed. … Western liberals might say: “Since Karadzic won’t get justice in Serbia, he should get it at The Hague.” But an Iranian judge might apply precisely the same logic and say: “Adulterers in Western countries are going unpunished: we must kidnap them and bring them to a place where they will face consequences”. …

2. International jurisdiction breaks the link between legislators and law. Instead of legislation being passed by representatives who are, in some way, accountable to their populations, laws are generated by international jurists. …

7. The politicisation of international jurisprudence seems always to come from the same direction: a writ was served against Ariel Sharon, but not against Yasser Arafat. Augusto Pinochet was arrested, but Fidel Castro could attend international summits. Donald Rumsfeld was indicted in Europe, but not Saddam Hussein.

What you’ll always find about the international-justice hustle is that its proponents never explain how these fatal problems can be resolved. In this case, the problems, of course, are the solutions. That’s because universal jurisdiction isn’t about justice. It’s about power.

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From Middle East Journal: A Dark Corner of Europe

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

cross-posted at Middle East Journal

“If Yugoslavia was the laboratory of Communism, then Communism would breathe its last dying breath here in Belgrade. And to judge by what [Slobodan] Milosevic was turning into by early 1989, Communism would exit the world stage revealed for what it truly was: fascism, without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time.” – Robert D. Kaplan

“You bombed my country.” These were the nearly first words I heard after clearing passport control on arrival in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, from a taxi driver who flagged me down inside the airport. “Fifteen countries bombed my country.”

I didn’t know what to say. Neither did my American friend and traveling companion Sean LaFreniere.

“Why are you here in Serbia?” the driver said.

“We’re tourists,” I lied. I didn’t want to say I was an American journalist on a trip through the former Yugoslavia with an end destination in Kosovo. Serbia’s last war of ethnic-cleansing was fought there, and it only ended when NATO, led by the United States, bombed Belgrade’s tyrant Slobodan Milosevic into submission. That was nine years ago, but just three months ago Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. A mob of Serbian nationalists answered by fire-bombing the American embassy. The U.S. responded by evacuating its non-essential employees.

“If people ask what two tourists are doing here,” the driver said, “where you are from, you say you’re from Holland.”

Read the rest of the post here.

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Victory in Serbia

Often, when the U.S. is about to take some tough step abroad, advocates of a softer line will argue that unnecessary toughness will simply alienate foreign countries that might otherwise be friendly to us. We’ve heard endless variations of that line by those who favor withdrawal from Iraq and accommodation, rather than confrontation, with Iran, Russia, China, and other states.

It was also an argument often heard against the move to recognize Kosovo’s independence. After the U.S. and its allies went ahead, there were many dire predictions that the result would be a takeover by ultra-nationalists in Serbia. In other words, we would gain Kosovo but lose Serbia.

It didn’t work out that way in the most recent Serbian elections. As reported by the Financial Times:

The pro-European Union alliance led by Boris Tadic, Serbia’s president, won the advantage over hardline nationalists in snap elections on Sunday as voters demanded EU integration despite the loss of Kosovo.

The pro-EU list captured 38.7 per cent of votes and won 103 seats in the 250-seat parliament. The nationalist Radical party took 29.1 per cent and 77 seats, according to the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CESID), an independent monitoring group.

That comforting result calls to mind how Serbia became democratic in the first place. It was part of the fall-out from the 1999 war waged by NATO to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic was forced to concede defeat in that confrontation with the West, and not long thereafter he fell from power. In the case of Serbia, at least, tough Western actions–including repeated refusals to accommodate hard-line Serbian nationalists–have paid off. Is there perhaps a lesson here for other parts of the world?

Often, when the U.S. is about to take some tough step abroad, advocates of a softer line will argue that unnecessary toughness will simply alienate foreign countries that might otherwise be friendly to us. We’ve heard endless variations of that line by those who favor withdrawal from Iraq and accommodation, rather than confrontation, with Iran, Russia, China, and other states.

It was also an argument often heard against the move to recognize Kosovo’s independence. After the U.S. and its allies went ahead, there were many dire predictions that the result would be a takeover by ultra-nationalists in Serbia. In other words, we would gain Kosovo but lose Serbia.

It didn’t work out that way in the most recent Serbian elections. As reported by the Financial Times:

The pro-European Union alliance led by Boris Tadic, Serbia’s president, won the advantage over hardline nationalists in snap elections on Sunday as voters demanded EU integration despite the loss of Kosovo.

The pro-EU list captured 38.7 per cent of votes and won 103 seats in the 250-seat parliament. The nationalist Radical party took 29.1 per cent and 77 seats, according to the Centre for Free Election and Democracy (CESID), an independent monitoring group.

That comforting result calls to mind how Serbia became democratic in the first place. It was part of the fall-out from the 1999 war waged by NATO to stop Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic was forced to concede defeat in that confrontation with the West, and not long thereafter he fell from power. In the case of Serbia, at least, tough Western actions–including repeated refusals to accommodate hard-line Serbian nationalists–have paid off. Is there perhaps a lesson here for other parts of the world?

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Kosovo, Russia, and China

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

This morning, France, Germany, Britain, Italy, and 13 other EU members said they will recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. The territory, under UN administration since 1999, declared independence from Serbia yesterday. The United States was not far behind its European allies. Today, President Bush signaled American acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood in remarks made in Tanzania, and Secretary Rice made it official.

But don’t expect the Spaniards to do so. Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said his government would not accept Kosovo’s “unilateral act,” which “does not respect international law.” Apparently Madrid, which has a separatist problem of its own, did not believe the European Union’s foreign ministers, who labeled yesterday’s succession a one-off event.

Spain should indeed be worried about Kosovo’s example. There were slightly more than fifty nations at the end of the Second World War. Since then, decolonization and separatism have increased the number of states to 193, 194, or 195—depending on who is doing the counting. Today, the process of division continues. Kosovo, for example, is the sixth state to be formed from Yugoslavia. So the Russians are right to be concerned about separatist movements in Chechnya and Dagestan and the Chinese with minorities in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia.

Whether we like it or not, separatism will not end with Kosovo’s independence. The Russians said they would seek independence for Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia if others recognize Kosovo. And Taiwan, an island that meets all the definitions of a state, will undoubtedly try to use the West’s recognition of Kosovo to its own advantage.

It is stirring when people declare independence, and we need to back their aspirations and the concept of self-determination. There is no advantage to us in attempting to stand in the way of history—or helping Russia and China, both large multicultural empires created by conquest and held together by oppression, in keeping themselves together. Kosovo is no one-off. Nor should it be.

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Loss of Will

In his most recent column George Will writes:

Many of those who insist that the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991 when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and in 2003 when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society riven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds. America’s military leaders, who are professional realists, do not make this mistake.

This is in keeping with what Will has written in recent years. He may be the most visible conservative critic of President Bush’s Freedom agenda—that is, the effort to bring liberty to the Iraq and the Arab world. For example, in his May 4, 2004 column, Will wrote:

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how “all people yearn to live in freedom” (McClellan). And about how it is “cultural condescension” to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a “myth” that “our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture” because “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit” (Tony Blair).

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In his most recent column George Will writes:

Many of those who insist that the surge is a harbinger of U.S. victory in Iraq are making the same mistake they made in 1991 when they urged an advance on Baghdad, and in 2003 when they underestimated the challenge of building democracy there. The mistake is exaggerating the relevance of U.S. military power to achieve political progress in a society riven by ethnic and sectarian hatreds. America’s military leaders, who are professional realists, do not make this mistake.

This is in keeping with what Will has written in recent years. He may be the most visible conservative critic of President Bush’s Freedom agenda—that is, the effort to bring liberty to the Iraq and the Arab world. For example, in his May 4, 2004 column, Will wrote:

This administration cannot be trusted to govern if it cannot be counted on to think and, having thought, to have second thoughts. Thinking is not the reiteration of bromides about how “all people yearn to live in freedom” (McClellan). And about how it is “cultural condescension” to doubt that some cultures have the requisite aptitudes for democracy (Bush). And about how it is a “myth” that “our attachment to freedom is a product of our culture” because “ours are not Western values; they are the universal values of the human spirit” (Tony Blair).

It was not always thus. In an October 8, 2002 interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose, Will said:

I think the answer is that we believe, with reason, that democracy’s infectious. We’ve seen it. We saw it happen in Eastern Europe. It’s just—people reached a critical mass of mendacity under those regimes of the East block, and it exploded. And I do believe that you will see [in the Middle East] a ripple effect, a happy domino effect, if you will, of democracy knocking over these medieval tyrannies . . . Condoleezza Rice is quite right. She says there is an enormous condescension in saying that somehow the Arab world is just not up to democracy. And there’s an enormous ahistorical error when people say, “Well, we can’t go into war with Iraq until we know what postwar Iraq’s going to look like.” In 1942, a year after Pearl Harbor, did we have a clear idea what we were going to do with postwar Germany? With postwar Japan? Of course not. We made it up as we went along, and we did a very good job . . .

And more. Mr. Will spoke in favor of bringing “instability” to the Middle East and even to Egypt (“What is so wonderful about the stability of Egypt?”). His argument, which he made impressively, was that it is in America’s interest to bring about modernity to the Arab world—a prospect about which he was sanguine.

When asked, “Do you think [Iraq] will be a quick and easy conflict, if it comes to that,” Mr. Will answered, “Fairly quick, yes.” And Will said this about Afghanistan and nation-building:

[Afghanistan is], to put it mildly, a work in progress. The president, I think, admits this. This was part of his education as president, to say that his hostility to nation-building was radically revised when he saw what a failed nation, Afghanistan, a vacuum, gets filled with. Political nature abhors a vacuum, and when it fills up with the Taliban and the leakage of violence to these private groups, essentially, like al Qaeda, then you have to say, “Well, I’ve revised that. We’re going to have to get into the nation-building business.”

Will also distinguished between Afghanistan and Iraq when it comes to nation-building:

It’s different in Iraq because Iraq is a big, rich country with a middle class, with universities…

He added:

But you know, regime change didn’t just arise as a subject recently. We did it in Grenada, Panama, Serbia. Would the world be better off if Milosevic were back in Serbia? Noriega in Panama? I don’t think so.

Prior to the war to liberate Iraq, then, George Will thought Iraq and the Arab world were quite ready for democracy. He was a strong advocate for regime change and nation building. And he thought Iraq would be an easier undertaking than Afghanistan.
It’s fine—it can even be admirable—for an individual to change his mind in the face of new facts and circumstances. But some appreciation for one’s previous views should also be taken into account.

George Will ranks among the finest columnists ever to pick up a pen (quill or otherwise). Over the years his arguments and words have shaped a generation of conservatives, including me. And I wish the best thing I have ever written were half as good as the worst thing George Will has ever written. But it’s fair to ask that he not write as if he always knew better, as if any conservative worth his Burkean salt should have known that the effort to spread democracy to Iraq was Wilsonian foolishness that was fated to fail.

It wasn’t (and isn’t)—and once upon a time George Will thought so, too.

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Clarity on Taiwan

Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly will ask that President Bush personally express his opposition to the upcoming referendum in Taiwan over U.N. membership. Evidently, statements of opposition from Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (on Phoenix TV in Hong Kong) and former CIA analyst (and now National Security Council member) Dennis Wilder have not satisfied the Chinese authorities. According to the World Journal of September 3, Hu will make the request when he meets President Bush at the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Australia. A tempest is now brewing over a matter that Washington should have dismissed with a simple “no comment.”

Beijing is clearly worried that democracy in Taiwan will get out of hand. It has evidently been warning and threatening us—perhaps, and this is my own speculation, suggesting the Chinese government might undertake some symbolic or real military action if a “red line” is crossed. This would be most unwelcome given the current state of Iraq and Afghanistan. So Washington has made a huge effort to make absolutely certain that no trouble develops in Asia—leading to an overreaction that is proving seriously counterproductive.

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Chinese President Hu Jintao reportedly will ask that President Bush personally express his opposition to the upcoming referendum in Taiwan over U.N. membership. Evidently, statements of opposition from Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte (on Phoenix TV in Hong Kong) and former CIA analyst (and now National Security Council member) Dennis Wilder have not satisfied the Chinese authorities. According to the World Journal of September 3, Hu will make the request when he meets President Bush at the upcoming APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting in Australia. A tempest is now brewing over a matter that Washington should have dismissed with a simple “no comment.”

Beijing is clearly worried that democracy in Taiwan will get out of hand. It has evidently been warning and threatening us—perhaps, and this is my own speculation, suggesting the Chinese government might undertake some symbolic or real military action if a “red line” is crossed. This would be most unwelcome given the current state of Iraq and Afghanistan. So Washington has made a huge effort to make absolutely certain that no trouble develops in Asia—leading to an overreaction that is proving seriously counterproductive.

By publicly supporting the Chinese, we have put the spotlight unintentionally on our own policies, which are a welter of contradictions unlikely to withstand close scrutiny. We have never recognized Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, even when we did recognize the Chiang Kai-shek government in Taiwan as the government of China. We expected, when we cut our relations with Chiang’s government, that Taipei’s then-autocratic rulers would cut a deal with Beijing and merge. But they did not; they went democratic, unexpectedly (not without some consternation on our part). We support independence referenda in states all around the world, and are pushing now for the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. We insist on peaceful resolution of issues between Taipei and Beijing, yet we sell weapons and share intelligence with the government of Taiwan, which we do not recognize. Our most important Asian allies, Japan in particular, have vital interests in Taiwan’s not coming under Chinese control. PRC forces there could easily cut vital shipping lanes for energy from the Middle East to Northeast Asia.

But even though we do not consider Taiwan to be part of China, we oppose the Taiwanese sharing this view or acting on it. All sorts of conflicts are latent here, but silence and circumspection have kept them reasonably quiet for nearly thirty years. Now a series of misplaced steps, designed to please China, seem set to push the whole situation towards exactly what we and they have been seeking to avoid: a clear-cut, democratic, and legal assertion of the rights of the Taiwanese to be members of the international community.

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D’Alema, Double-Tongued

The day after President Bush delivered a speech on the Middle East calling for the total isolation of Hamas, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, delivered a scathing reproach to this strategy. D’Alema called instead for dialogue with Hamas, “a real force,” in his words, “representing a large section of the Palestinian people.” D’Alema, a true democrat, is concerned that the West is shunning a legitimately elected organization.

This is the same D’Alema who, in 1999, while Prime Minister of Italy, ordered his country’s military to join the air campaign against the democratically elected leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. Had Milosevic been Palestinian and a Hamas leader, would D’Alema have advocated dialogue instead?

The day after President Bush delivered a speech on the Middle East calling for the total isolation of Hamas, Italy’s Foreign Minister, Massimo D’Alema, delivered a scathing reproach to this strategy. D’Alema called instead for dialogue with Hamas, “a real force,” in his words, “representing a large section of the Palestinian people.” D’Alema, a true democrat, is concerned that the West is shunning a legitimately elected organization.

This is the same D’Alema who, in 1999, while Prime Minister of Italy, ordered his country’s military to join the air campaign against the democratically elected leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic. Had Milosevic been Palestinian and a Hamas leader, would D’Alema have advocated dialogue instead?

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Riding Hurd

Last year we had to endure James Baker, one of the chief culprits for the genocide in Bosnia, lecturing the Bush administration about Iraq. Now Douglas Hurd, his British counterpart in the early 1990′s, calls for a British equivalent of the Baker-Hamilton report—an inquiry that would ask the question: “How did we [the British] follow the Americans in this gross miscalculation of what would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein?” Hurd insists that “this would not be a ‘trial of Tony Blair,’” but his denial rings hollow. “Under our next prime minister we have to learn again what we have forgotten: the art of working with the United States as an effective junior partner capable of independent thought, and of ensuring that reasonable advice is listened to, and that eventual questions are answered.”

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Last year we had to endure James Baker, one of the chief culprits for the genocide in Bosnia, lecturing the Bush administration about Iraq. Now Douglas Hurd, his British counterpart in the early 1990′s, calls for a British equivalent of the Baker-Hamilton report—an inquiry that would ask the question: “How did we [the British] follow the Americans in this gross miscalculation of what would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein?” Hurd insists that “this would not be a ‘trial of Tony Blair,’” but his denial rings hollow. “Under our next prime minister we have to learn again what we have forgotten: the art of working with the United States as an effective junior partner capable of independent thought, and of ensuring that reasonable advice is listened to, and that eventual questions are answered.”

Can this be the same Douglas Hurd who, as Conservative foreign secretary, was largely responsible for the European Union’s disastrous policy on Yugoslavia, including an arms embargo which prevented the Bosnians from defending themselves against Serbian genocide and ethnic cleansing? The same Douglas Hurd who warned against armed intervention to halt the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo? The same Douglas Hurd who was told at the time by his former boss Margaret Thatcher: “Douglas, Douglas, you would make Neville Chamberlain look like a warmonger”? The same Douglas Hurd who, within a year of retirement, returned to Belgrade in 1996 on behalf of the bank that now employed him, NatWest Markets, to negotiate with Milosevic about the privatization of Serbian utilities? Not only was Mr. (now Lord) Hurd eager to profit from the Serbianctator’s desire to sell state assets in order to generate cash to preserve his brutal tyranny—he even tried to justify it by claiming that his motive was the altruistic one of “liberalizing” Serbia, and that Milosevic “could have been rehabilitated.”

As the historian Brendan Simms points out in his brilliant Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia (London, 2001), there was never any likelihood of Milosevic changing. As for Hurd’s campaign to prevent Western intervention—“the calculated caution and gravitas, the sage warnings, and the weighty caveats: this was all bluff.” Once the Blair government adopted a policy diametrically opposed to that of John Major and Douglas Hurd, which resulted in the Kosovo War and the fall of Milosevic, the bluff was called. Hurd, Baker,and the whole gang of “realists” were discredited: “None of them had the faintest idea what they were talking about.”

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