by Stephen Schwartz
Translations of this item:
SARAJEVO — Ten years ago, on November 21, 1995, the initialing of the Dayton Peace Agreement brought the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina to an end. The document was formally signed in Paris three weeks later, but the meeting at Dayton was the main act in the drama, and has provided the pretext for its commemoration, with considerable commentary, this week.
The outcome of Dayton was not felicitous for Bosnia's Muslim plurality, which had made up 45 percent of its prewar population, followed by 35 percent Serbs, 15 percent Croats, and the rest Gypsies, Jews, and "Yugoslavs"--an artificial nationality boosted by the Communist dictatorship of Marshal Tito in a doomed attempt to suppress cultural and religious rivalries. With the destruction of an ethnically-mixed community that had existed for half a millennium, Muslim Bosnia was reduced to 28 percent of the republic's territory. The conflict featured massacres, concentration camps, the expulsion of hundreds of thousands, waves of rape, and the destruction of many historic mosques and churches.
It is ironic that the official photo of the event shows President Clinton in the company of two of the men most responsible for blocking early intervention to stop the war--Britain's John Major and France's Jacques Chirac, both of whose governments, and military personnel on the ground in Sarajevo, openly sympathized with the Serbian aggressors. Other foreigners were present: Felipe González from Spain, Helmut Kohl from Germany, and the Russian Viktor Chernomyrdin. They stood and clapped as the agreement was initialed by Slobodan Milosevic, president of a shrinking Yugoslavia, Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, and Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic. Tudjman and Milosevic had conspired to slice Bosnia up; only Izetbegovic had not attempted to seize his neighbors' territory.
Tudjman and Izetbegovic are both dead now. Milosevic, who started the bloodshed, is on trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Dayton turned out to be useless in preventing the Serbian demagogue from carrying out more bloody atrocities in Kosovo in 1998. Richard Holbrooke, who has waged a long campaign to claim full responsibility for ending the Bosnian war, preened some days ago, while receiving a $25,000 "Dayton Peace Award," and commented that "It is hard to think of any other peace process in the last decade--anywhere in the world--that has done nearly as well as this one."
The Bosnians themselves are much less enthused about the past ten years, in which they have been ruled from Brussels by the "international community."
BUT THE FATE of the small Balkan land is back in the news today -- as a parallel with Iraq.
Roger Cohen of the New York Times, who in the past was more sensible about such things, warned this weekend that, like Bosnia, Iraq could fall apart on ethnic lines. He further argued that Dayton shows that American cooperation with "our allies" beats "improvising ad hoc alliances with the likes of Mongolia." Never mind that the truth is that Dayton followed several years of deceit by "our allies"--the British, French, and (even more pro-Serb) Russians.
Cohen then switches tracks to argue that Bosnia is comparable to Iraq because the example of Bosnia should "counsel perseverance." But the obvious and tragic reality is that Bosnian Muslims, unlike the Iraqi Sunni radicals, favored peace over war--not one American soldier has been killed by hostile fire in the Balkans. This, even though the Bosnians are also Sunnis, and had created a real army that was winning their land back when Dayton was imposed.
THERE IS A PARADOX in this, for the Western Europeans also preferred peace . . . but as an alternative to freedom, not combat. The British and French set a precedent for this, now long forgotten, when they proposed a truce in the American Civil War that would have left the Union and Confederate forces in place and perpetuated slavery. Dayton reflected the same mentality: peace between the combatants was valued more than the freedom of the Bosnians from ethnic terror. And so the country remains split today, between a "Muslim-Croat Federation" and a "Republic of Serbs."
The real lessons of Dayton for Iraq have very little to do with ethnic breakup and everything to do with the attitudes of the European and other bodies in which "our allies" were and, with the exception of a few, still are to be found. God help Iraq and the world if, after 10 years of foreign administration, the country shows no better results than those visible in present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina: weak privatization, high unemployment, a feeble media, and continued concentration of real authority in the hands of foreign bureaucrats. That is the heritage of Dayton. A train trip from Zagreb, the Croatian capital, to Sarajevo reveals the difference between a war-torn country which keeps international meddlers out and one that is forced to let the meddlers run its affairs. Croatia appears reborn by entrepreneurship, and hums with new construction and new consumption. Bosnia lags behind, with much wartime damage still visible, and refugees returning slowly to put their original homes back together.
THE MOST IMPORTANT, and truest, parallel between Bosnia and Iraq would compare Serbs with Iraqi Sunnis. Both have a history as minorities enjoying domination over, and exploitation of, larger communities whose ways remain incomprehensible to the outside world.
But the Bosnian war ended because the U.S. bombed the Bosnian Serbs and cut off the supply lines to their backers in Serbia proper. The insurgency in Iraq might be similarly dampened if the United States brought consequential force to bear against the Iraqi Sunni terrorists and forced their backers in Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries to stop recruiting and financing murderers.