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To Use a War

By Diana Johnstone

Covert Action Quarterly

Richard Holbrooke, TO END A WAR (New York: Random House, 1998); 408 pages,

Throughout three years of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the United States
showed less interest in ending the war than in denouncing any possible
European-brokered compromise settlement1 as“appeasing aggression” or
betraying“multicultural” Sarajevo. Then in mid-1995, the Clinton
administration was faced with having to keep a promise to help its NATO
allies withdraw their troops from the United Nations Protection Force
stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This would have meant engaging U.S. forces
there, a move strongly opposed in both Congress and the Pentagon. In danger
of being caught between a hostile Congress and disgruntled European allies,
with the risk of discrediting the U.S. commitment to NATO, the Clinton
administration dispatched Richard Holbrooke to make the very sort of
compromise deal that the U.S. had previously scorned.

Ostensibly, Holbrooke’s assignment in 1995 was“to end a war.” It was also,
and especially, to use a war to further U.S. policy aims in Europe. Before
ending it (for how long?), the United States used the war in
Bosnia-Herzegovina to reassert its supremacy in Europe and further the
conversion of NATO into a global instrument of power projection.
Three years later, the United States has been using the Kosovo conflict in
Serbia to confirm and expand the NATO role.2 Far from achieving lasting
peace and reconciliation, this instrumentalization of conflicts has actually
made them more intractable than ever. Especially in Kosovo, outside
interference is a main cause of the killing that took place in recent
months. More war is virtually certain.

Understandably, Holbrooke has not written a book to explain the real nature
and aims of U.S. policy, but to justify his own role in an enterprise that
may become more controversial as events direct public attention to what was
wrong with the peace agreement that Holbrooke imposed on the rival Yugoslav
leaders in Dayton, Ohio, on November 21, 1995. Sharing responsibility for
what he knows was a perilously flawed diplomatic result, and incidentally
countering frequent charges of being an uncooperative egotist, Holbrooke
stresses the excellent teamwork he achieved as head of the U.S. mission.
Otherwise, he makes a special point of his vigorous role in getting NATO to
bomb and re-bomb the Bosnian Serbs prior to negotiations.

Zeal for bombing would be a novel boast in a peacemaker. Holbrooke, however,
does not belong to the category of peacemakers, but of war-enders, the big
birds of prey who come in to sort out and pick the bones on the battlefield.

“Let’s Win This One for the Gipper”

Although he scarcely puts it this way, Holbrooke’s double mission was to
strengthen U.S. leadership of NATO and at the same time appease the Bosnia3
lobby in the U.S., which included not only Senators such as Bob Dole and Joe
Biden, but also important members of the Clinton administration such as Al
Gore and Madeleine Albright. This required a great show of“getting tough
with the Serbs.”

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had long been anxious to settle the war
in Bosnia-Herzegovina at almost any price, in order to get international
sanctions lifted.4 For months, the Clinton administration had been rejecting
a peace settlement that was within reach of Deputy Assistant Secretary of
State Robert Frasure, who had been holding talks with Milosevic. Now,
however, Holbrooke was sent in to end the war on the basis of the talks
already held between Frasure and Milosevic.
On August 19, the U.S. negotiating team including Holbrooke and Frasure was
being driven into Sarajevo from a helicopter base on Mount Igman when a
piece of the road broke off under the weight of one of the two armored
vehicles carrying the Americans. The vehicle plummeted down the steep
mountainside and burst into flames. Frasure and two other high-ranking
Americans were killed.

This shocking accident, rather than the fate of Bosnia, provides Holbrooke
with his opening chapter and the“tragic leitmotif” that runs through his
book. The loss of these American colleagues emerges as the overriding
Bosnian tragedy. As sacrificed martyr, Frasure no doubt considerably helped
Holbrooke“sell” his deal to the divided Clinton administration. It was
necessary to“win this one for the Gipper.”

“Bombing the Serbs to the Negotiating Table”

Frasure had recommended negotiating the fate of Bosnia-Herzegovina not with
the Bosnian Serbs themselves, who were directly involved, but with
Milosevic. Frasure knew that Milosevic was fed up with the Bosnian Serb
leaders and was ready to do almost anything to overcome Serbia’s
international isolation. The way to sideline Bosnian Serb leader Radovan
Karadzic was provided by the International Criminal Tribunal (ICT) set up by
the U.N. Security Council in The Hague to judge“war crimes in the former
Yugoslavia.” The ICT made a great point of placing Karadzic at the top of
its“wanted” list, although the case against him was no stronger than cases
that could be–but never are–made against Croatian President Franjo Tudjman
or President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia-Herzegovina himself. Holbrooke
declared that he would not negotiate with“indicted war criminals,” thus
making sure that the Bosnian Serbs had to delegate authority to the
President of Serbia.

With the help of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Milosevic gave Holbrooke his
trump card: an agreement by the Bosnian Serb leaders to allow the Serbian
President to negotiate on their behalf.

Still, before undertaking peace talks with the three Presidents, Milosevic,
Izetbegovic, and Tudjman (who had no trouble representing the Bosnian
Croats, since it was his own Croatian army that had been fighting in
Bosnia-Herzegovina on their behalf5), Holbrooke was eager for NATO to bomb.

NATO was all prepared. However, it“took an outrageous Bosnian Serb action to
trigger Operation Deliberate Force,” recalls Holbrooke.

This happened right on time. On August 28, Holbrooke arrived in Paris to
work out a negotiating position with Izetbegovic and his foreign minister,
Muhamed Sacirbey. That day, CNN reported a particularly gruesome bomb
massacre in downtown Sarajevo, with scores of civilian victims. The timing
was perfect. Later that day, at his second meeting with Holbrooke,
Izetbegovic had“changed into a sort of paramilitary outfit, complete with
loose khakis, a scarf, and a beret bearing a Bosnian insignia.” Thus“dressed
like an aging Left Bank revolutionary,” Izetbegovic“demanded that NATO
launch strikes against the Bosnian Serbs immediately. Sacirbey went further,
saying his President would not see us again until NATO began bombing...” (p.
96). Izetbegovic was exclusively“focused on the necessity for immediate NATO
bombing, and wary of negotiations....”

“From Pale the Bosnian Serbs accused the Bosnian Muslims of staging the
incident to draw NATO into the war,” Holbrooke recalls. Within NATO, experts
disagreed, and U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali called for an
investigation.“None of this mattered much,” according to Holbrooke.“What
counted was whether the United States would act decisively and persuade its
NATO allies to join in the sort of massive air campaign that we had so often
talked about but never even come close to undertaking.” (pp. 91-92) The
opportunity was too good to miss. American“experts” instantly attributed the
massacre to the Serbs.

Holbrooke fails to mention that British ammunition experts serving with the
U.N. in Sarajevo said they found no evidence that Bosnian Serbs had fired
the lethal mortar round and suspected the Bosnian government army might have
been responsible.6 Whoever was responsible, everything was ready for bombing
the Serbs.
The following evening was chronicled by the fashionable Paris writer
Bernard-Henri Lťvy (BHL), who arrived with Sacirbey at the American
ambassador’s residence for a dinner hosted by“the lovely Pamela Harriman.”
Holbrooke kept leaving the party for the telephone, which struck BHL as
rude, until he saw Izetbegovic in his strange costume sitting in an
adjoining room, and realized that the American negotiator was working out
final details of the major air strikes that began at 2:00 a.m. the next
morning. Bombing the Serbs was the social event of the season.

The“Operation Deliberate Force” air strikes on Bosnian Serb targets gave
rise to a useful and oft-repeated falsehood: that NATO air strikes were
necessary to“bomb the Serbs to the negotiating table.”

In reality, the Serbs were eager to negotiate and to make peace.
Izetbegovic, on the contrary, wanted to continue the war. Even when the
Serbs lifted the siege of Sarajevo, Izetbegovic was not satisfied.“He would
prefer to let the people of Sarajevo live under Serb guns for a while longer
if it also meant that the NATO bombing would continue,” Holbrooke observed.
Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic“showed even greater fury” in demanding more

In short, it was never a matter of“bombing the Serbs to the negotiating
table.” Rather, NATO had to bomb the Serbs in order to get the Muslims to
the negotiating table.

“Bombs For Peace”

The air raids ended on September 1, and Holbrooke began to look for a new
pretext to get them started again. In the absence of a massacre, some
Serbian hyperbole had to do. In an angry letter to the French U.N. forces
commander in Bosnia, Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic called NATO
bombing“more brutal” than Nazi bombing of Belgrade, because NATO had
targeted churches and cemeteries during funerals of victims.“When we saw
Mladic’s letter, we assumed it resolved any question about resuming the
bombing,” writes Holbrooke.“What answer other than a resumption of the
bombing was appropriate under the circumstances?”7
Holbrooke rushed to the Turkish capital, Ankara, where Izetbegovic had many
friends in high places, to persuade Izetbegovic to accept the U.S. draft for
negotiations about to begin in Geneva. As usual, Izetbegovic balked.“The
Bosnians are barely on board,” Holbrooke warned, in an urgent call to the
White House from Ankara,“...and when we see Izetbegovic again in the morning
for a last review of the draft, the bombing must have resumed.” He concluded
dramatically:“Give us bombs for peace” (p. 132).
Thus a second and more deadly wave of NATO“bombing for peace” began on
September 5. Tomahawk cruise missiles and F-117s came into play. Once the
decision to bomb was taken,“the Navy and the Air Force both wanted to
publicize, especially to Congress, the value of their new weaponry. For the
Navy, this meant the Tomahawks, which were launched from naval vessels in
the Adriatic. For the Air Force, it meant the expensive and controversial
F-117, whose value had been questioned by some Pentagon critics” (p.145).

This bombing campaign was stopped only when Pentagon officers informed the
State Department that NATO was running out of authorized targets. Meanwhile,
the bombing had knocked out Serb communications and enabled forces of the
U.S.-contrived“Bosnian-Croatian Federation”–an extremely uneasy alliance
between Tudjman’s Croatian Army and Izetbegovic’s forces–to conquer large
swathes of territory in Western Bosnia inhabited almost exclusively by
Serbs. According to Holbrooke, this generated“at least one hundred thousand
Serb refugees” (p. 154), in addition to about double that many who only a
few weeks earlier had been driven out of their homes in the Croatian Krajina
region by Tudjman’s army, with German arms and U.S. approval. All this time,
Holbrooke was urging Tudjman to take more Serb towns in Western Bosnia, but
to stop short of capturing Banja Luka.

Holbrooke explains this restraint by the fact that capturing Banja Luka
would generate over two hundred thousand additional refugees, and he“did not
think the United States should encourage an action that would create so many
more refugees.” (p.160) Holbrooke was aware that“we could be accused of
applying a double standard.”
“Using a provocative phrase normally applied only to the Serbs, I told
Tudjman that current Croatian behavior might be viewed as a milder form of
ethnic cleansing.” Aside from this rare burst of humanitarian concern,
ending the Federation offensive was necessary because the Serbs were
recovering from the bombing and mending their defenses, and even more
because the Croat and Muslim forces in the region were starting to turn on
each other. At the top, this was reflected in Tudjman’s“deep hatred of the
Muslims” and the“intense personal animosity” between Tudjman and Izetbegovic
that came out when they were brought together.

Good Guys and Bad Guys

The basic reason for the NATO bombing goes to the heart of U.S. foreign

As Holbrooke tells it, the roots of Bosnia policy go back to Clinton’s first
election campaign in 1992, when his advisers were aware that his weak point
in relation to Bush was foreign policy. They concluded that Bosnia would
make an excellent election campaign issue (p. 41), one on which the
Democratic candidate could attack Bush and appear more forward-looking. Thus
on August 14, 1992, Clinton gave a speech promising to“make the United
States the catalyst for a collective stand against aggression.” This was the
traditional“world leadership” stand of the United States, now shifting into
a“collective” stand of the“international community.”

In order to take such a stand against aggression, there is need for
“aggression” to fit traditional“world leadership” rhetoric. Only in the face
of“aggression,” preferably by an“evil” adversary who“refuses to negotiate,”
can it become clear why it takes the United States to be the“catalyst”: its
overwhelming military power. It is essential to illustrate that diplomacy
can succeed only in conjunction with the overwhelming military force
represented by U.S. air power.

Otherwise, one might as well turn the whole problem over to a bunch of

For bombing to be used, however,“outrage” is necessary (“It took an
outrageous Bosnian Serb action to trigger Operation Deliberate Force”)
against a single“bad guy,” the villain, the aggressor. And once there is a
single“bad guy,” his adversaries are automatically promoted into“good guys
”...who proceed to exploit their position shamelessly.
So it was that as Milosevic was transformed into Satan, Tudjman and
Izetbegovic were increasingly able to blackmail the United States to get
what they wanted. This pattern is repeating itself today, with potentially
even more disastrous consequences, with the Albanians in Kosovo.

Whatever the difficulties in taming Izetbegovic or Tudjman, the United
States succeeded in the more important task of putting the European Allies
in their place. At the end of his adventure, Holbrooke could find
satisfaction in the fact that NATO had for the first time acted“out of area,
” and that even the French had acknowledged that“America is back.”

When the irritable Bosnian Muslims finally came to Dayton, they constantly
obstructed the negotiations and each other. After a fortnight in Dayton,
Holbrooke reported to Undersecretary of State Warren Christopher that the
most disturbing problem he faced was the“immense difficulty of engaging the
Bosnian government in a serious negotiation.” Bitter personal rivalry
divided Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic and Muhamed Sacirbey, while the dour
Izetbegovic never showed any interest whatsoever in making peace.

“Any form of compromise, even minor gestures of reconciliation to those
Serbs who had not wanted war and were ready to re-establish some form of
multiethnic community, was not easy for Izetbegovic. His eyes had a cold and
distant gaze; after so much suffering, they seemed dead to anyone else’s
pain.... although he paid lip service to the principles of a multi-ethnic
state, he was not the democrat that some supporters in the West saw,”
recounts Holbrooke (p. 97).

Although Silajdzic, on the other hand, spoke with passion about the need to
recreate a multiethnic country,“he referred to the Croats with such
animosity that I did not see how he could ever cooperate with them” (p. 97).
Silajdzic and Sacirbey both occasionally flew into rages against Holbrooke
and shouted that the Muslims would never give in to U.S. threats or

Holbrooke, on the other hand, more than once gave into Muslim blackmail,
notably by agreeing to“equip and train” Muslim forces after the peace

As the Dayton talks were at the eleventh hour, Holbrooke was deeply
concerned“that even if Milosevic makes more concessions, the Bosnians will
simply raise the ante.” Western officials were wondering: Does Izetbegovic
even want a deal? And Holbrooke wasn’t sure:“Sometimes he seems to want
revenge more than peace....” And Holbrooke’s colleague Chris Hill complained
that:“These people are impossible to help.”

Clearly, Dayton would never have produced any agreement at all without the
unflagging help of the one participant who really seemed anxious for peace:
Slobodan Milosevic.

From start to finish, Milosevic is described as cheerful, alert, quick to
understand, and above all, ready to make concession after concession. He
spoke excellent English and loved the United States, even Dayton and Packy’s
Sports Bar. He looked back nostalgically on his trips to New York when he
was a banker in Tito’s Yugoslavia, he sang along with a trio of American
black women sergeants singing“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (while Izetbegovic
sat sullenly), he was the life of the party.“Watching Milosevic turn on the
charm, Warren Christopher observed that had fate dealt him a different
birthplace and education, he would have been a successful politician in a
democratic system.” In fact, Milosevic was a successful politician (although
a disastrous statesman) in a“transitional” system that was at least as
democratic as those run by Tudjman or Izetbegovic, and probably more so.

Dayton is a chronicle of concessions made by Milosevic. Indeed, many of the
concessions were invented by Milosevic to get the talks out of an impasse.
At the very end, it was, typically, Milosevic who saved Dayton from total
failure, when once again, Izetbegovic had rejected what everyone else
thought was an agreement.

Volunteering to“walk the final mile for peace,” Milosevic offered to agree
to arbitration for Brcko in a year. This was a huge and perhaps fatal
concession. When he heard that Izetbegovic had finally, if reluctantly,
accepted his offer, Milosevic had tears in his eyes.

Unrequited Love

Milosevic again and again saved the negotiations by giving up something. He
got next to nothing in return. On December 14, 1995, President Clinton
joined the three Balkan presidents in Paris for the ceremonial signing of
the agreement reached in Dayton.

“Finally came the President’s first discussion with Milosevic. The While
House had taken care to ensure that there would be no photographs of the
encounter. Still, this was a meeting Milosevic had long wanted; it put him
on a plane with other world leaders after years of isolation.‘I know this
agreement would not have been possible without you,’ President Clinton said,
cool and slightly distant.‘You made Dayton possible. Now you must help make
it work.’

“Milosevic said that the key to peace lay in strict implementation of the
Dayton agreements. Then he requested full normalization of U.S.-Yugoslav
(i.e., Serbian) relations. We swiftly ended the discussion.” (p. 322)

The sanctions were“suspended,” but not lifted, as Milosevic had hoped. And
what the United States calls the“outer wall” of sanctions–the exclusion of
Serbia/Yugoslavia from international institutions such as the United Nations
and its agencies, the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe
(OSCE), the World Bank, etc.–remains in place. Thus Belgrade’s diplomatic
isolation, its inability to speak for itself in international forums, has
been maintained.8

The Holbrooke-Milosevic encounter created a mutual dependency. Each man has
needed the other to produce“results,” even though the results produced may
eventually turn out to be disappointing, even disastrous.

The Dayton Accords do not lay the groundwork of a lasting peace, and contain
the seeds of renewed war. To bribe Izetbegovic, the United States agreed to
arm and train the Bosnian Muslims. As Holbrooke himself acknowledged in his
book, this was“the most controversial” of all programs. The U.S. military
“hated the idea,” so did the Europeans, and finally, it made no sense to
sign a peace agreement for a single Bosnia-Herzegovina, and then arm one
faction of it. In an ideal world, admits Holbrooke, all the armies should
have been sharply reduced and merged into a single force. But NATO refused
to accept the job of implementing a disarmament program. This“Equip and
Train” program, largely farmed out to Turkey, was supported by“a powerful
group of Senators led by Republican Majority Leader Bob Dole and two senior
Democrats, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Joe Biden of Delaware.” It was
defended in congressional hearings by none other than the Reagan
administration’s“Prince of Darkness,” former Assistant Secretary of Defense
Richard Perle, a notorious arms buildup enthusiast, who represented the
Muslim side in military negotiations at Dayton.

The other major failure at Dayton was the absence of any agreement on the
status of the town of Brcko, which connects the two parts of Serbian Bosnia,
“Republika Srpska.” Together, these two factors mean that only prolonged
outside military occupation can prevent the rearmed Muslim forces from
renewing the war against the Serbs.

Meanwhile, supposedly“multicultural” Sarajevo has been transformed by
Izetbegovic’s ruling party, the Democratic Action Party (SDA), into an
increasingly exclusive Muslim city. The Croats retain tight and exclusive
control of their territory. The Serbs have always been more divided among
themselves, but ostentatious“international community” support for the
“moderates” led by Biljana Plavsic, including NATO action (recommended by
Holbrooke) to shut down Bosnian Serb“nationalist” television, led to Plavsic
’s defeat in elections last December. This political defeat was such a blow
to the“international community” officials actually running
Bosnia-Herzegovina that it took them several days to pull themselves
together and announce the results. Whatever else one can say for them, the
September 1998 elections showed that neither television nor money from the
“international community” determined the way Bosnian Serbs vote.

Resentment of“international community” control, as instituted by the Dayton
Accords, is by now the one thing that Muslims, Serbs and Croats in
Bosnia-Herzegovina can agree on.

But Holbrooke himself and the whole“international community” chorus of
officials and media keep repeating their standard excuse for any and all
failures of Dayton: It is all because“Serbian war criminals” have not been
arrested. This pursues the Manichean myth of moralistic power politics: The
world would be a fine place, with everybody going about their business, if
it weren’t disrupted from time to time by“bad guys.” The solution to all
world political problems is thus a court to punish the“criminals.”
The same pattern is reproducing itself over Kosovo. Milosevic still has only
one ambition: to end his country’s isolation. He is still looking to the
United States and his“friend” Holbrooke to get him out of the Kosovo trap.
And Holbrooke needs the pliable Milosevic to give him another“success.”

Prior to Dayton, Holbrooke obtained what he called“something of a diplomatic
innovation–a document drafted by us but signed only by the Serbs as a
unilateral undertaking.9 None of us was aware of diplomatic precedent for
this, but it fit our needs perfectly.”

This was the same formula used recently by Holbrooke for Kosovo, by which
Milosevic unilaterally agreed to remove Yugoslav security forces from a
section of their own country, and to let international“verifiers” wander
around the country to make sure they had really left. This in return for
nothing. As a result, the armed ethnic Albanian rebels are more convinced
than ever that they have the support of the United States and NATO, and are
readying their spring offensive.

Milosevic, who set out to bring unity and prosperity to Yugoslavia, is a
dramatic failure as a leader. Unlike the media propaganda, he is neither a
dictator nor a racist nor a bloodthirsty tyrant. He is a vain, clever,
manipulative political leader who drastically misjudged the situation of
Yugoslavia in the post-communist transition period, and who keeps masking
his failures with unreal optimism. Although recent events have inevitably
given them second thoughts, most Serbs want to think of America as their
friend. They retain memories of alliance in two World Wars, their educated
children emigrate en masse to Canada and the United States. Milosevic has
kept hoping to be accepted by America. This feeling was, by all accounts,
enforced by conviction that European leaders could not be relied upon as
partners, and that only the United States has the power to make a deal

All this has made Milosevic an indispensably weak and accommodating partner
for Holbrooke.

In Serbia, very many people are convinced that Milosevic is kept in power
solely by the Americans, who need him to give away Yugoslavia bit by bit.
There is even a widespread belief that Milosevic wants NATO to force him to
give up Kosovo, since he doesn’t know what else to do with it, and that
military offensives against ethnic Albanian separatists are only part of the
scenario of turning the territory over to NATO.

Many Serbs believe that after Kosovo, the“international community” will step
up its encouragement of separatism in Montenegro, the Vojvodina and the Novi
Pazar region (called“the Sanjak”), using Milosevic simultaneously as pretext
and broker for ongoing disintegration, until there is nothing left of Serbia
but the Sumadija forest region where“Black George” led his peasant revolt
against Ottoman oppression nearly two hundred years ago.10 And when they’ve
used him to establish a NATO protectorate in the Balkans, it is predicted,
the Americans will throw Milosevic away like a squeezed out lemon peel.
Instead of retirement in New York, or even Dayton, Milosevic may be sent to
The Hague for a show trial.

Ignorance, Images, and Analogy Construction

“Washington is well known as a city where social events can have policy
consequences,” observes Holbrooke. Supporting“Bosnia” meaning the Muslims,
early became both politically correct and socially acceptable in Washington.

Holbrooke describes how he first joined the cause.“In the spring of 1992, I
saw the Bosnian Ambassador to the United Nations, Muhamed Sacirbey, on
television calling on the world to save his nation. Impressed with his
passion and eloquence, I phoned him, introducing myself as an admirer of his
cause, and offered my support. Sacirbey thus became my first Bosnian friend.
” The fact that this“first Bosnian friend” was an American no doubt made the
matter easier. Sacirbey came from a“distinguished” family and had played
first-string football at Tulane University.“Mo” Sacirbey“was tough, strong,
and fit.” Good material for the fraternity.

The“bey” in the name Sacirbey, like the“beg” in Izetbegovic, is a trace of
the Ottoman“beys,” the aristocracy that monopolized property and power under
Turkish rule. Their Democratic Action Party (SDA) represents descendants of
the ruling class that was overthrown by egalitarian peasant revolts in the
19th century. To many Bosnian Serbs (who, until only twenty years ago, were
the majority in Bosnia-Herzegovina), creation of a Muslim-led Bosnia
inevitably looked like an attempt to restore the ancien rťgime, dominated by
those professing the Muslim faith. SDA leaders maintain close ties with
Turkey. Through NATO, Turkey is being brought back into Balkan lands it
ruled for 500 years.

Such historical background was of no concern to Holbrooke. Like so many
others, he excuses his ignorance of history by dismissing it as
inconsequential. The perfect rationalization for this ignorance was provided
by the writings of Noel Malcolm, whose books on Bosnia and Kosovo have come
along just in time to provide rationalization for anti-Serb positions.11
“Malcolm undermined the conventional wisdom that the war was the inevitable
result of ancient hatreds,” notes Holbrooke gratefully. Thus Holbrooke,
“executive summary” style, replaces one reductionism with another: if the
war wasn’t“inevitable” on account of“ancient hatreds,” it must all be the
fault of the Serbs.

With history out of the way, the conflict was judged by images and
analogies. Holbrooke’s account confirms the crucial importance in forming
U.S. policy of the famous“barbed wire” photo exposed by German journalist
Thomas Deichmann as deceptive.12 In August 1992, Holbrooke went on a
fact-finding mission to Sarajevo to find out about“the death camps that have
gotten so much publicity.” Like other Western“fact finders” of the period,
Holbrooke was apparently totally unaware of the equally dreadful prison
camps run by Muslims in and around Sarajevo itself.13 Holbrooke noted in his
diary that“television pictures rouse the world” and are“the reason we are
here.” (p. 36) As a U.N. official observed,“a few pictures of people being
held behind barbed wire and the world goes crazy.”

The term“death camps” is part of the analogy construction which served to
identify Serbs with Nazis. As Holbrooke puts it,“...in the summer of 1992,
the world began to see shocking film of emaciated prisoners in northern
Bosnia, looking at the unblinking camera through barbed-wire fences, scenes
straight out of World War II–yet happening now.”

The Nazi analogy dispenses the outsider from even attempting to understand
the causes of a conflict and the viewpoints of the various parties, and to
search for solutions on that basis. The problem is reduced to the existence
of“evil” which needs to be eradicated. Holbrooke readily concludes that“the
search for explanations failed. One simply had to recognize that there was
pure evil in the world.”

But where was this“pure evil”? Not, apparently, on the Muslim side, even
after U.N. troops in Bosnia unearthed a stash of terrorist weapons,
including anti-personnel explosive devices disguised as toys, in the
possession of Islamic Mujahidin under command of Izetbegovic’s SDA.14

At one point, Holbrooke’s Hungarian-born wife Kati Marton worried that her
husband might be killed by the“Hamas wing of the Serbs.” This is pure
fantasy, all the more surprising coming from a woman who has published books
on political matters. There has never been anything like a“Hamas wing of the

On the other hand, the fact that Izetbegovic’s Bosnia actually had become a
Mecca for Islamist Mujahidin from all over the Middle East, many of them
veterans of Afghanistan, linked to terrorist networks in several countries
and violently anti-Western, only provided another motive for the United
States to support Izetbegovic, supposedly to weaken his dependence on Iran.
The presence of Mujahidin among ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo is
producing the same reaction.

In Paris for the December 14 ceremonial signing of the accords, President
Clinton complained to Izetbegovic about the Mujahidin who were lingering on
in Bosnia, in violation of their agreement. Holbrooke recalls:“Izetbegovic
told the President that the bulk of such personnel‘had already left,’ a
statement we knew not to be true.”
But Izetbegovic can lie; he is a“good guy,” the leader of the victims.

Things They Said

In an age in which“image” is reasserting its supremacy over ideas, all the
focus has been on the media image of the protagonists. Their ideas are
ignored or distorted. Flagrant double standards have been employed in
interpreting statements by Serb or Muslim leaders.

“I would sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina, but for that
peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina I would not sacrifice sovereignty,” Izetbegovic
declared on February 27, 1991.15 At that time, there was peace but no
“sovereign Bosnia Herzegovina.” It was only a year later that, over protests
of its


1. See the numerous index references to the United States in: David Owen,
Balkan Odyssey (London: Victor Gollancz, 1995).
2. See the very clear summary of U.S. policy in William Pfaff’s column
carried by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, published in the International
Herald Tribune, Dec. 5, 1998, as“Washington’s New Vision for NATO Could Be
Divisive.” Excerpts:“The Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement on Kosovo in October
was accurately described by Richard Holbrooke as an unprecedented event.
NATO had intervened in an internal conflict inside a sovereign non-NATO
state, not to defend its own members but to force that other state to halt
repression of a rebellious ethnic minority.... Washington sees this as a
precedent for a new NATO that would deal with a variety of existing and
future problems inside and outside Europe. This goes beyond Balkan unrest to
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as in Iraq, Iran, and South
Asia, other troublemaking by‘rogue states’ international terrorism and even
the drug trade.... Zbigniew Brzezinski, in his latest book (The Grand
Chessboard), sees the alliance as the instrument of an‘integrated,
comprehensive and long-term geostrategy for all of Eurasia,’ in which NATO
would eventually reach Asia, where another American-led alliance would link
Pacific and Southeast Asian states.”
3. Holbrooke never speaks of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the country’s full name,
but of“Bosnia,” and uses the term“Bosnian” for the Bosnian Muslims alone, a
usage implying that the Muslims are somehow more“Bosnian” than the Serbs or
Croats living there. This usage, although in contradiction with the notion
of“Bosnia” as an ideal multicultural society, is common among its
supporters. In this regard, little attention is paid to the fact that
President Alija Izetbegovic’s ruling Islamic political party, the Democratic
Action Party, has from the start included Muslims who live outside Bosnia,
notably in the Novi Pazar region of Serbia, and thus are not“Bosnians” at
4. On June 1, 1992, United Nations Security Resolution 757 imposed on
Yugoslavia what the New York Times called“the most sweeping economic and
other sanctions it has ever imposed, including a trade embargo, a ban on oil
sales to the Belgrade government and an end to all sports and cultural
links.” These extraordinarily severe sanctions not only caused hardship to
the population while offering smugglers opportunities for enrichment; they
severely restricted normal communication between Serbia and the outside
world, making it that much easier to portray the Serbs as monsters.
5. The 1992 U.N. sanctions against Serbia were imposed as punishment for a
supposed invasion, which had not taken place. Rather, Yugoslav army units
stationed there had withdrawn by the time the sanctions were imposed. Before
the Yugoslav army withdrew, it had lost soldiers to the opposing new armies
and indeed left most of its heavy equipment to the Bosnian Serbs, who
benefited from Serbian financial support. In contrast, Croatia actually did
send its own armed forces into Bosnia-Herzegovina to carve out an ethnically
pure Croatian territory known as“Herceg-Bosna,” and has never been punished
with more than half-hearted reprimands.
6. “Serbs‘not guilty’ of massacre: Experts warned US that mortar was
Bosnian,” The Sunday Times (London), Oct. 1, 1995, p. 15. The Times defense
correspondent Hugh McManners reported that the British experts said“French
analysts who also examined the scene agreed with them. But they were
overruled by a senior American officer, and the U.N. issued a statement
saying it was beyond any doubt that the Bosnian Serbs were responsible for
the blast, in which 37 people were killed and 90 wounded.
“The carnage was used as a pretext for NATO’s huge air campaign against the
Bosnian Serbs, which was followed by extensive battlefield losses, and
forced the Serbs to the negotiating table....The British experts were in a
U.N. crater-analysis team that reached the Trznica market in Sarajevo 40
minutes after the mortar attack on the morning of August 28....”
7. In contrast, the French commander to whom Mladic had addressed his
letter, General Bernard Janvier, was insisting that it was possible to start
negotiations with the Bosnian Serbs (p. 128).
8. The United States never normalized relations, and early in 1998, just as
economic relations between Yugoslavia and the European Union were starting
to be normalized, the Kosovo crisis brought a new round of sanctions against
Belgrade–including a ban on its civilian airline, JAT, whose business is
being picked up by European carriers.
9. The unilateral undertaking called for the Serbs to remove all their heavy
weapons from the Sarajevo area, essentially surrendering their positions
there. The parallel with the recent Kosovo agreement is obvious.
10. I have heard this belief expressed in numerous private conversations
with Serbs, notably during a trip to Serbia in June 1998.
11. Bosnia: A Short History, 1994, and Kosovo: A Short History. See Aleksa
Djilas,“Imagining Kosovo: A Biased New Account Fans Western Confusion,”
Foreign Affairs, Sept./Oct. 1998, pp. 124-31.
12. See CovertAction Quarterly, No. 65, Autumn 1998. Deichmann shows that a
British TV photographer filmed Muslims from within a barbed wire enclosure,
thus creating the illusion that the Muslims were imprisoned behind a barbed
wire fence, which was not the case.
13. Documentation sent to the Hague Tribunal on crimes against humanity in
Muslim camps for Serbs in Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Zenica, Dretelj near Mostar,
Tarcin, etc., has been ignored. Only the case of the Celebici camp was taken
up by the Tribunal thanks to a chance encounter between a Serbian-American
woman and the Hague prosecutor at the time, Richard Goldstone, at a U.S.
cocktail party. Another indication of the importance of“social relations.”
This documentation has been collected by a number of women, including
Maritsa Mattei, who lives in Paris and has visited the Tribunal on several
14. The Serbs have constantly claimed that the three notorious Sarajevo bomb
massacres of civilians (the May 27, 1992,“breadline massacre,” which
occurred on the eve of the U.N. vote on sanctions against Serbia; the Feb.
5, 1994, massacre of shoppers in the Sarajevo market, followed by an
ultimatum demanding withdrawal of Serb heavy weapons; and the Aug. 28, 1995,
slaughter referred to above) were in fact staged by Muslims to gain
international support.“Black propaganda,” committing atrocities to be
attributed to the other side, is not unusual in Middle East conflicts, and
is the reason for the question asked in such cases, Who profits from the
crime? Outside professionals such as the Mujahidin with the toy bombs would
be prime suspects for that sort of operation.
15. Laura Silber and Allan Little, Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation (London:
Penguin/BBC Books, 1996), p. 211.
16. The citation, in English, from Silber and Little, p. 215, was read into
the record at the farcical“Rule 16 hearing” against Karadzic and Mladic held
in The Hague on Sept. 16, 1996. The Tribunal did not allow the presence of
an attorney for the defense.
17. Roger Cohen, Hearts Grown Brutal: Sagas of Sarajevo (New York: Random
House, 1998), p. 148.
18. “When I asked Milosevic in 1995 about this famous speech, he heatedly
denied that it was racist, and charged Ambassador Zimmermann with organizing
a Western diplomatic boycott of the speech and the Western press with
distorting it. Unfortunately for Milosevic, however, his words and their
consequences are on the record,” writes Holbrooke (p. 26). On another
occasion, Holbrooke and Chris Hill“asked him about his famous 1989 speech at
Kosovo that ignited Serb extremism. He vigorously denied that this was his
intent.... Chris Hill, who knew the history in detail, defended Zimmermann
and reminded Milosevic that the speech had been inflammatory by any
19. Hearts Grown Brutal, op. cit., n. 17, pp. 272-73.


Covert Action Quarterly, Winter 1999 Number 66
Web: http://www.covertaction.org/


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