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October 29, 2008

Bosnia and the Transatlantic Relationship
Posted by James Lamond

Richard Holbrooke and Paddy Ashdown have a really interesting column today, where they talk about the growing problems in Bosnia.  They sum up a complicated situation pretty succinctly:

Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, once the darling of the international community (and especially the United States) for his opposition to the nationalist Serb Democratic party, has adopted that party's agenda without being tainted by their genocidal baggage. His long-term policy seems clear: to place his Serb entity, Republika Srpska, in a position to secede if the opportunity arises. Exploiting the weaknesses in Bosnia's constitutional structure, the international community's weariness and EU inability to stick by its conditionality, he has, in two years, reversed much of the real progress in Bosnia over the past 13, crucially weakened the institutions of the Bosnian state, and all but stopped the country's evolution into a functioning (and EU-compatible) state.

Dodik's actions have been fueled by Russian encouragement and petrodollars. In addition his rival, the senior president of all of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Haris Silajdzic, has stressed the need to abolish the two entities that make up Bosnia, to create one non-federal country. Dodik professes to respect Dayton and Silajdzic wishes to revise it, but both men are violating its basic principle: a federal system within a single state. This toxic interaction is at the heart of today's Bosnian crisis.

This is just one more international problem that the Bush administration has ignored, while it focused solely on Iraq. 

This tipping point is the result of a distracted international community. While the Bush administration largely turned its back on Bosnia, the EU became deeply engaged; EU membership has been the critical lever for pressing reforms in Bosnia since it was made policy in 2003. But the EU did not develop a coherent strategy, and by proclaiming progress where it has not been achieved, the EU weakened not only its own influence in the country, but also the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the international military presence (the European Union Force, EUFOR, which succeeded NATO) the drivers of progress in Bosnia since Dayton.

As you can see by Holbrooke and Ashdown's analysis, the EU picked up when the US was sitracted, however they never really were successful.  Their main point is that if this potrentially dangerous problem is to be resolved, transatlantic cooperation will be the cornerstone of such a resolution.  It will be vital for the next American president to work with our allies on a number of critcal issues.   

However, John McCain has been undiplomatic, arrogant, and even insulting when it comes to dealing with Europe.  How on earth would a McCain adminstration work with the countries that he has called an "aging movie actress in the 1940s who is still trying to dine out on her looks but doesn’t have the face for it," and "A German Rip Van Winkle from the 1960s [that] would not understand the lack of political courage and cooperation with its allies on the question of Iraq."  From Bosnia to Afghanistan, from terrorism to the financial crisis- there are no major problems in the world today that the U.S. cannot address without the active support and participation of our European allies.


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Trans-Atlantic cooperation is not Holbrooke and Ashdown's main point. The necessity of American leadership is Holbrooke and Ashdown's main point. Holbrooke has been making the argument that Europe has failed disastrously in the Balkans when America has not taken a leadership role for years. He made this argument while in office; he made it in his book. He and Ashdown make it again in this column. I can't speak for Ashdown, but I'm pretty sure Holbrooke has over the course of the last 20 years said things to and about the Europeans a lot worse than anything John McCain has ever thought of.

I understand the post here was not intended to conclude with an argument that America can only lead if we suck up to allies. That is only what it looks like. The intent was actually to repeat one of the Obama campaign's talking points. However, an Obama administration will face some interesting choices as it fills out key foreign policy positions, between Democrats who really do think that diplomacy and sucking up are the same thing on the one hand, and people like Holbrooke on the other. We'll see which way it goes.

I think that Holbrooke would be disasterous for transatlantic relations. Altanicists such as Holbrooke believe that the only European views that count are those that conform to the American view point. With France and Germany having completely different approach to Russia when it comes to the Balkans and Georgia this could only create further tension between those countries and the US. Holbrooke is no better than McCain in his attitude towards Russia and strengthening transatlantic ties.

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