Politics & Policy

Transnational Transgressions

In Kosovo and Honduras, Obama-ite foreign policy gave Putin effective precedent.

‘Your independence is irreversible, absolutely irreversible.” So declared Vice President Joe Biden, thrilling a parliamentary assembly in Pristina, Kosovo. These were still the early months of the Obama administration, and the vice president was touring the Balkans to take a victory lap in the breakaway Serbian territory whose independence he’d done so much to champion as an influential senator.

As Vladimir Putin tucks away Crimea, just as he clawed South Ossetia and Abkhazia back from Georgia five years ago, Kosovo is worth remembering. So is President Obama’s staunch support of Manuel Zelaya, the socialist would-be dictator Hondurans tried to rid themselves of back in 2009. With an unreconstructed Soviet imperialist eying more worlds to reconquer, one is constrained to ask whether the Beltway’s transnational progressives will ever be called to account for greasing the skids for him.

It has been rich indeed to hear Obama, who oozes contempt for his constitutional duty to execute the laws faithfully, whine about Putin’s rogue stampede over the decidedly more vaporous principles of international law. Saul Alinsky, it seems, could have learned a thing or two about “direct action” from the KGB. Once things get a tad more challenging than harassing tea-party activists or trumping up prosecutions against a couple of nettlesome film producers, the community organizer’s bag of tricks feels awfully empty. Putin is a strongman, playing remorseless hardball in the big leagues; the president of the United States, by contrast, harangues about dialogue and pleads with the president of Kazakhstan — Kazakhstan! – for tips on buttering up the rascally Russian. A neo–Ivan the Terrible is on the march, and the world’s only superpower huddles with Borat.

But the Kosovo precedent — which, as National Review’s editors noted this week, is one that Putin wielded as a club against the West while storming Ukraine — is not solely, or even mostly, Obama’s fault. He was a bit player in the closing act of a debacle that tossed territorial integrity overboard when our bipartisan foreign-policy solons decided it was inconvenient to their trendy priorities. In this instance, it was about appeasing Islamic supremacists.

Kosovo was an overwhelmingly Albanian-Muslim province of the former Yugoslavia. It had sided with the Nazis in World War II and later come under Communist domination. The mutual hatred between the Kosovar Muslims and Orthodox Christian Serbs resulted in centuries of dueling atrocities and efforts by each side to wipe out the other.

In the Nineties, while straining for independence from the Serbs, Kosovo served as a safe haven for al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups. Like contemporary “rebels” in Syria and Libya, the Kosovo Liberation Army had moderate Muslim elements but also worked cooperatively with the jihadists. Naturally, the separation of Kosovo from Serbia became a cause célèbre of the Muslim Brotherhood and the global jihad. As night follows day, it also became fashionable at the soirées where transies convince themselves that Islamic supremacists will surely moderate if given the responsibilities of governance and will like us better if we support their access to power.

The Brotherhood and its fellow Islamic supremacists were heartened when President Bill Clinton encouraged the rabidly anti-American jihadist regime in Iran to arm the Bosnian Muslims in their war against the Serbs — a flagrant violation of a U.N. embargo against arms shipments to Yugoslavia that Washington, a Security Council member, had endorsed. Later, when war broke out in Kosovo, despite brutality on both sides, the Brotherhood knew it had a receptive audience for propaganda framing the conflict as a one-sided “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims by Serbs.

By 1998, the scandal-plagued Clinton found any page-turning opportunity welcome. He picked up the “genocide” theme and ran with it. Providing what would later become Obama’s Libya-war blueprint, Clinton instigated an unauthorized, undeclared, and ultimately disastrous war, in the absence of any threat to the United States, ostensibly to protect civilians but in reality on behalf of the Muslims.

Clinton’s State Department warned the Serbs that NATO bombing would commence unless they agreed not only to withdraw forces from Kosovo but to an arrangement whereby Kosovo would surely be granted full independence from Serbia after three years. The Serbs refused. Clinton miscalculated that the Serbs would quickly blink and that his aerial attacks, though lawless, would be brief and easily forgotten. Instead, the Serbs did not surrender and the bombing went on for nearly three months, causing far more damage than the carnage it was ostensibly meant to stop, while the killing intensified on the ground.

Finally, in 1999, with Russia interceding on the Serbs’ behalf, the fighting ended with an agreement Clinton could have gotten at the start: an international security force to keep the peace but a commitment from the West that Kosovo would remain part of Serbia. In addition, the settlement was placed under the authority of the U.N. Security Council, where Serbia would be assured of Russian support, rather than under NATO.

The outcome bitterly disappointed Islamic supremacists, whose hopes for a Muslim state independent of Serbia had also been dashed in the earlier Dayton accords, which ended the Bosnian conflict. But the Brotherhood and its allied jihadists kept agitating.

Again, they found a receptive audience in the Beltway. Ironically, in the wake of the 9/11 mass-murder attack by jihadists against the United States, the transnational progressives in a Republican administration became just as obsessed as the Left about showing the world’s Muslims that the U.S. and the West were not “at war with Islam,” as if we could ever convince Islamic supremacists to abandon such a useful canard. Thus, President Bush — with the support of both the GOP’s McCain faction and leading Senate Democrats, including Obama, Biden, and Hillary Clinton — breached the understandings that ended the Kosovo war: The United States would support Kosovo’s secession and recognize it as an independent state.

Quite apart from its notorious jihadist precincts, its compromised militia, and its availability as a launch pad for terrorism in Europe, Kosovo utterly lacked governing institutions and was rife with unemployment and political corruption (as Caroline Glick outlined at the time). Yet our government went back on the deal that had ended the Kosovo war in order to confer sovereignty on a province clearly not deserving of it. Even Biden implicitly conceded as much while making a pit stop in Serbia during his aforementioned 2009 victory lap. “The United States does not, I emphasize, does not expect Serbia to recognize the independence of Kosovo,” he told President Boris Tadic.

But this does not begin to quantify the blunder. Much worse, in terms of global stability, the United States and the West had (a) set a dangerous precedent for disaffected minorities to claim a right to break away from their countries and (b) underscored that will-to-power still rules, all the precious palaver about international law notwithstanding.

If anyone has a hyperactive will-to-power streak, it is Putin. Moreover, not only is the Kremlin Serbia’s patron, it has its own disaffected minorities — Chechen Muslims, for one — yearning to break away. Infuriated by the West’s Kosovo machinations, it wasted little time exploiting the new order of things.

The perfect place to make mayhem was Georgia. Since the Soviet collapse, it had been challenged by pro-Russian separatists in South Ossetia and Abkhazia — each, like Kosovo, technically part of the host country but de facto independent, with the resulting tensions kept in check by international peacekeepers, including Russians. Georgia had elected as its president Mikheil Saakashvili, a staunchly pro-Western democrat who had resolved to rein in the secessionists and was thus despised by the Kremlin. Taking a page out of Clinton’s book, Russia echoed the secessionist propaganda and announced that it would be expanding aid to the disputed provinces. When that naturally prompted a hostile reaction from Georgia, the Kremlin further incited the pro-Russian separatists and used the resulting tensions as an excuse to invade. Putin calculated that the U.S. and Europe would huff and puff and . . . do nothing. It has been five years — looks like a pretty good bet.

Crimea is a repeat performance that offers other useful transnational-progressive misadventures for Putin to exploit. In Kiev and the west of Ukraine, citizens resisted the campaign by President Viktor Yanukovych to abort enhanced ties to Europe and indenture their country to the Kremlin. Yanukovych, of course, is the Putin puppet narrowly elected in 2010 by carrying the heavily Russian strongholds in eastern Ukraine. Urged on by Putin, he undertook to crush the protest lethally and was compelled to flee when democratic forces in parliament stripped him of his powers. As one would expect, he turned up in Russia, becoming Exhibit A in Putin’s condemnation of the “illegal coup” — the “true,” democratically elected president of Ukraine whose pleas for help the Kremlin could not ignore.

Sure, it was farce . . . but not farce without precedent. In 2009, Honduras’s socialist president sparked street protests when he lawlessly attempted to rewrite the country’s constitution in order to remain in power. He was arrested, deposed, and deported, with the overwhelming endorsement of the Honduran congress and supreme court, fully consistent with Honduran law. Except that the international Left wanted Zelaya kept in place, so President Obama inserted himself into Honduras’s internal affairs.

Obama and Secretary of State Clinton looked the other way at Zelaya’s incitements, condemned his removal as a “coup,” and demanded that he be restored to power out of respect for “democratic elections” (never you mind the rigorous democratic processes that ousted him). As the Wall Street Journal noted at the time, the Obama administration backed the rhetoric with brass knuckles, cutting off aid, threatening to seize Honduran assets, pulling visas from Honduran officials, and threatening not to recognize future Honduran elections.

Putin’s thoroughly corrupt puppet Yanukovych might not pass the laugh test of legitimacy, but thanks to American foreign policy, that test does not necessarily apply. Putin used the “coup” to stir up anti-Western propaganda in Ukraine’s Russian strongholds, then used the resulting unrest as a pretext to invade and annex Crimea . . . so far.

Ukraine might have thought about defending its sovereign territory, but it is without sabers even to rattle. The country surrendered its prodigious nuclear arsenal in reliance on an unenforceable, unratified security guarantee from Clinton. Not to be outdone, Senator Obama and the GOP’s foreign-policy clerisy later expanded that surrender into the wholesale destruction of Ukraine’s weapons stockpiles — on the theory that, as Obama explained it, a country’s abandoning its weapons makes for a safer country and a safer world.

In successful enterprises, the daft are rooted out and sidelined. In the United States, we put them in charge of foreign policy — for life.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.


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