Long-Term Success of Bosnia: Response to the Washington Post Article, by Haris Alibasic

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke wrote in his April 23rd column about his impression of the successes of Bosnia, since the Dayton agreement. Mr. Holbrooke was one the creators of the Dayton peace agreement, which was initiated after the bombing campaign the US and NATO undertook against Serbian forces in Bosnia. Mr. Holbrooke during his visit to Bosnia met the country’s top local and international officials “in his capacity as a private citizen,” according to the US embassy in Bosnia (1). What concerns me is that his current opinion on Bosnia’s future is a huge shift from the opinion articulated in his book entitled, To End a War, and a big mistake for Bosnia.

In his April 23rd Washington Post article he argued that Bosnia should not have a strong central government. However, in response to the shortcomings of the Bosnian elections in 1998, in his 1999 edition of To End a War, Holbrook writes, “I suggested in several meetings at the White House in late 1998 that a significant adjustment in policy was in order: henceforth, the implementing powers needed to seek ways to strengthen the central government, which had been virtually non existent while Krajisnik had been its senior Serb representative. Approving this policy shift, Washington and the EU planned to place more power in the central institutions in 1999, and remove as much as possible from the entities. Such a policy ” I called it ‘back to the future’ ” was precisely what I had originally hoped for at Dayton, since a stronger central government would increase the chances of making Bosnian a viable single country. (2)”

While several points in his article–failures in the area of political integration, follow-up, and foreign relations–are right on target; his comments regarding the impossibility of a centralized government and the existence of Al-Qaeda in Bosnia are counterproductive to long term peace and stability.

Of the eight former Yugoslav republics and autonomous regions that separated from Yugoslavia, only Bosnia and Kosovo were nations with a Muslim majority. Seven nations split from Yugoslavia, because Serbia, under Milosevic’s rule was a communist country, and an enemy to democracy and freedom. Just a few months ago, Serbs attacked the US Embassy in Belgrade. Under normal circumstances this would be considered an act of war. Bosnian Muslims have not used terrorist tactics to achieve political goals.

Holbrooke argues that a weak central government and stronger entities is the only government structure that makes sense in Bosnia and he argues Iraq. The underlying assumption here is that a majority Muslim nation is not capable of administering a federalist democratic government. Otherwise, why liken Iraq to Bosnia?

Mr. Holbrooke’s statements are in line with the official position of the leadership of Republika Srpska (RS), a small entity created as a result of the Dayton Peace Agreement and the successful ethnic cleansing campaign by the Serbs. The RS has been employing a number of strategies to change the historical and current image of Serbs. The primary strategy is the hiring of Quinn and Gillespie LLC (3) to try and clean up the tarnished image of Serbia and the RS in the United States and to cement the current situation in Bosnia with the de-facto divided country, with two separate entities. This is one of the top lobby firms in Washington D.C. The current president is Jack Quinn, former White House counsel during Bill Clinton (while Richard Holbrooke was President Clinton’s main envoy to former Yugoslavia). The Serbs are paying $125,000 USD per month to Quinn Gilespie to inform the American government, the Bush Administration, and Congress about the importance of the cohesion of the RS as an entity and the image of the RS in front of the American public. The secondary related strategy is the use of various fictions which seek to draw correlations between Al-Qaeda and Bosnia. Some claim that Al-Qaeda attempted or desired to plan the September 11th attacks from Bosnia. While others claim that there were and are still today Al-Qaeda training camps in Bosnia.

It is convenient to employ the rhetoric that all Muslim soldiers are terrorists, the same claim Milosevic and his advisors had prior to and during the war in Bosnia. However, the logic is strained when one considers that Bosnia, not Serbia, sent its Bosnian Muslim soldiers to Iraq to support the U.S. Army’s operation in Iraq. In today’s political climate, some readers will accept Hobrooke’s claims that Muslim soldiers are automatically members of Al-Qaeda. Holbroke states, “We were concerned with the presence in Bosnia of a little-known group of Islamist extremists who would later become infamous as al-Qaeda. In the Dayton Agreement, we required their removal and gave NATO the right to attack them. Without Dayton, al-Qaeda would probably have planned the Sept. 11 attacks from Bosnia, not Afghanistan.” While there were about 600 foreign Muslim soldiers in Bosnia during the war, these soldiers were present with the full knowledge of the U.S. government and with the goal of ensuring the survival of a nation in the face of the unchecked genocide against all Bosnian Muslims. A more important question is: does Holbrooke have evidence that shows that those specific soldiers became members of Al-Qaeda later? There is none. To claim that those soldiers would have planned the September 11th attacks from Bosnia is simply speculation.

Holbrooke’s speculation is damaging to history. In his 2005 article in the Washington Post, summarizing the importance of the US role in this small country in Europe Holbrooke states, “Bosnia would have not survived…a criminal state would be in power in Bosnia itself — and we would probably have had to pursue Operation Enduring Freedom not only in Afghanistan but also in the deep ravines and dangerous hills of central Bosnia, where a shadowy organization we now know as al Qaeda was putting down roots that were removed by NATO after Dayton.(4) ” In fact, Al-Qaeda was never in Bosnia. Referring back to numerous sources and probably the most compelling book, How Bosnia Armed, there was never any proof of a terrorist network in Bosnia. Marko Hoare, in his book How Bosnia Armed, clarifies that Western personnel have not been the objects of attacks in Bosnia “nor have any al-Qaeda training camps been discovered.(5) ” Words are important. And if we choose to label all Muslim soldiers as Al Qaeda, we are doing a huge dis-service to the gains we have made in the War on Terror and we are legitimizing the genocide, ethnic cleansing, and terrorist tactics of the Serbian Government against the Bosnian Muslim civilian population. Let us use words correctly.

As Holbrooke was allowed to speculate about what-if scenarios. Let me speculate that if Milosevic had waited until 2001 to conduct his war against Bosnia, Americans under the advice of people like Holbrooke would not have come to the aid of Bosnians and they may not have survived at all. By telling the American people that Muslims in Bosnia could have planned September 11th, would Serb war criminals have been forgiven for the genocide and systematic murder of Muslim civilian men, women, children, and elderly? Are Americans expected to forgive the Serbian acts of Genocide now given the possibility that foreigners in Bosnia could have planned September 11th in an alternate reality?

Bosnia needs more centralized power, it needs to be admitted to EU, and NATO to be rewarded for support of democracy at home and abroad including support of the US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan . Bosnians need to remember the past correctly, determine a vision for the future, and take appropriate steps to ensure that Bosnia achieves its vision. The most important thing to remember is that Bosnia is committed to support democracy and considers itself a steadfast ally of the United States in the global war against terrorism of any kind. As Holbrooke pointed out in 2005,”The most important failure was not capturing the two most wanted war criminals in Europe, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.(6)” The greatest success is that Bosnians have defended democracy and freedom, and survived in order to remind the world that Muslims can administer a democratic government if support of the world community exists.

Foot Note

1) Holbrooke visits Bosnia for Srebrenica documentary: report TurkishPress.com

2) Holbrooke, Richard; To End A War [Revised Edition], 1999, Modern Library Paperback Edition, pg. 358

3) Quinn Gillespie & Associates, LLC; Clients; http://www.quinngillespie.com/clients/index.htm

4) Was Bosnia Worth It?, Richard Holbrooke, The Washington Post, Tuesday, July 19, 2005

5) Hoare, Marko Attila; How Bosnia Armed: The Birth and Rise of the Bosnian Army; August 2005

6) Was Bosnia Worth It?, Richard Holbrooke, The Washington Post, Tuesday, July 19, 2005