Why is the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija—until two decades ago an obscure corner of the former Yugoslavia—relevant to “the War on Terror”? There are several valid answers to this pressing question, but let me start with the one that is often overlooked or unthinkingly discarded as either propagandistic or paranoid: Kosovo is a key link in the “Green Corridor,” or the Green Transverse, an Islamic belt anchored in Asia Minor and extending north-westward across the Balkans into the heart of Central Europe.
Over a decade ago a friend of mine, an Orientalist who was at that time a diplomat in Ankara, came across an interesting little brochure in a second-hand book shop in Istanbul. It was an old propaganda pamphlet issued by an Albanian émigré organization some decades previously, and it contained a simplified colored map of the Balkans. The map showed a mighty green arrow, emanating from Turkey, thrusting through the Muslim-populated parts of the Balkans (Thrace, Macedonia, Kosovo, Sanjak, Bosnia) all the way to Bihac and Cazin—an hour’s drive from Slovenia. It was depicted severing the links of the unbelievers’ defensive chain and victoriously heading to the north-west, towards the heartland of Europe. This geopolitical idea, known for decades as the Green Route or Green Corridor (“Zelena transverzala”) both by the advocates and opponents of Islamic inroads into Europe was simple and suggestive. It was the earliest known explicit depiction of a design harking back to Sultan Murat and his successors, an idea that was interrupted, rather than permanently defeated, at the gates of Vienna in 1683.
As Yugoslavia started disintegrating in the early 1990s, most Western analysts of world affairs promptly categorized the Green Route thesis as a crude, anti-Muslim conspiracy theory, mainly propagated by nationalist Serbian academics. But it has gained fresh credence, in continental Europe at least (and notably in Italy), after 9-11. It is by now hard to dispute that the radicalisation of Islam in the Balkans—deliberate or not—turned out to be the net result of the actions of the “international community” during the Yugoslav crisis. In fact, if Western policy in the Balkans was not meant to facilitate the Green Route, the issue is not why but how its effects paradoxically coincided with the enduring aspirations and goals of pan-Islamism, including its extremist and even terrorist manifestations.
After 9-11, nothing was supposed to be as before, but the U.S. policy in the Balkans has inexplicably retained its Islamophile bias, so remarkably persistent during the Clinton years. In the meantime, the Green Route has morphed from an allegedly paranoid Islamophobic propaganda ploy into a demographic, social and political reality. The absurdity of this ad hoc regional alliance between global enemies is demonstrated by its end result, namely the further undermining of the weakest geopolitical link in the war on terrorism.
The American benign attitude towards Jihad in the Balkans is not a consequence of ignorance: within the U.S. policy-making community, there have been voices for many years warning that those regions in the Balkans where Muslims are in a majority are prime entry points and transit routes for terrorists. And yet, when questioned about the existence and the magnitude of the threat in the Balkans, U.S. policy makers are typically evasive, sometimes aggressively so. They do not deny the existence of various activities that point to Islamic extremism and terrorist infiltration in the Balkans, but, as a rule, almost immediately relativize it by saying that it is unlikely to undermine the social, political and security balance in the region, or to threaten American vital interests. Then follows the reassuring mantra about the supposedly pro-European and pro-“Western” orientation of secularised Balkan Muslims—and the alleged pro-Americanism of Kosovo’s Albanians in particular—with the optimistic conclusion that the accelerated process of the Euro-Atlantic integration of the whole region would narrow the space for radical Islamism until such tendencies will finally disappear.
The problem with such rhetoric—detectable during Donald Rumsfeld’s recent visit to Tirana—is not that it is absolutely wrong, but that it had never been right, and that it becomes less right with each passing year. A majority of the Muslims in the Balkans may still be nominally “pro-Western,” but the question is how they perceive their vocation. Are they likely to remain so if “the West” stops pandering to their demands as a matter of course, and starts judging them on their intrinsic merits? Yes, a majority of Kosovo Albanians may be 19th-century-style nationalists who treat religion as an element of their core identity, but there are a growing number of those who insist that a return to authentic Islam is the key to their national aspirations; and then there are their leaders who have well documented and long-stablished links with various Islamic terrorist networks.
The principal defect of the American approach is in
(1) A visceral faith in the attractive powers of secularisation and soft-porn consumerism; and
(2) The cynical expectation that feeding local Muslims with the morsels of Balkan Christendom will keep the global beast at bay.
On this latter part of the equation in particular, the involvement of the Clinton administration in the wars of Yugoslav succession was an excellent example of the failed expectation that pandering to Muslim ambitions in a secondary theater will improve the U.S. standing in the Muslim world as a whole. That notion matured in the final months of George H.W. Bush’s presidency, when his Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said that a goal in Bosnia was to mollify the Muslim world and to counter any perception of an anti-Muslim bias regarding American policies in Iraq in the period leading up to Gulf War I. The result of years of policies thus inspired is a terrorist base the heart of Europe, a moral and political debacle most visible vis-à-vis Moscow and Peking, and the absence of any positive payoff to the United States.
The state of Yugoslavia, a multi-ethnic, decentralized, and increasingly dysfunctional polity, was slow to reform following Tito’s death in 1980. By 1990 its survival was in doubt. In 1991 its disintegration was given a major boost when the European Community declared under German pressure that Yugoslavia was untenable and its constituent republics were encouraged to seek independence on the basis of self-determination. At the same time the boundaries of those republics were declared inviolable, even though they did not correspond to the ethnic map and although they had been arbitrarily fixed by a communist dictator whose objective was to cut down in size the most numerous of the country’s constituent nations.
The pattern of Washingtonian responses was established in, Bosnia-Herzegovina, a microcosm of Yugoslavia itself. When it disintegrated in 1992 into three ethno-religious units, under the pressure of those same centrifugal forces that had been deemed irresistible in Yugoslavia’s case, the administration of Bush-father declared that it had to be put together again in the name of “multiethnicity.” This played right into the hands of the Muslim side, which on the strength of its numeric plurality expected to have the upper hand in a centralized Bosnian state. In the name of “multiethnicity” and respect for the Communist-drawn internal boundaries of Yugoslavia’s constituent republics, both democracy and self-determination were denied to the Christian majority of Bosnian citizens—i.e. Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats—who did not want to be Bosnified under Alija Izetbegovic, the fundamentalist leader of Bosnia’s Muslims and author of The Islamic Declaration. In that name Bosnia has been run for the past decade by a series of European administrators as an international protectorate, with the Muslims as the favored party and the key Jihadist base in Europe effectively inviolable.
Now all along it was obvious to any sober Westerner that Muslims did not want a multiethnic liberal democratic society: An astute American military officer warned in 1995 that “President Izetbegovic and his cabal appear to harbor much different private intentions and goals.” But the demonization of the Serbs proceeded nevertheless, a schooltext case of media-induced pseudo-reality in the service of a flawed strategy. An orchestrated campaign soon followed, to contextualize the brutalities of the former Yugoslavia with the horrors of the Holocaust.
Once the paradigm was successfully planted in Bosnia, the possibilities for Kosovo were limitless. The Albanians are supported in their bid to secede (“self-determination”) although that violated the borders of Serbia, but the Krajina Serbs were expelled in the biggest act of post-1945 ethnic cleansing in Europe, rather than allowed to secede from Croatia (“inviolability of borders”). Macedonia was effectively partitioned between Slavs and Albanians in 2001, but no such arrangement is allowed in Kosovo, where under NATO occupation three-quarters of Christians were expelled and over a hundred of their shrines put to torch. While The Hague Tribunal continues its frenzied quest for the remaining two alleged war criminals from Pale, three war criminals par excellence, Agim Ceku, Ramush Haradinaj, and Hashim Thaci, run Kosovo as their criminal little fiefdom with the blessing of the “international community.”
The result of Clinton’s Balkan policy is a vibrant jihadist base in the heart of Europe. The collusion between Muslim terrorist groups and criminal gangs in the Balkans has also spawned a criminal network with jihadist sympathies that currently supplies Western Europe with tens of thousands of smuggled humans (most of them Muslims) and with the bulk of its top-quality heroin, mostly of Afghan origin. The Interpol and European security agencies know, and occasionally are allowed to warn, that the trade is controlled mainly by Albanian Muslims from Kosovo—with the mujahedeen providing the logistics.
The denial of this reality is continuing, as we’ve seen in the remarkable Clinton interview with Mike Wallace on Fox News (September 24). Succumbing to tantrums worthy of a schoolyard bully, Clinton indignantly stressed that he could “simultaneously be trying to stop a genocide in Kosovo and, you know, make peace in the Middle East, pass a budget.” He’ll never admit that Kosovo was a serious and perhaps a fatal detraction. In the words of Dimitri Simes, not only is Clinton trying to rewrite history—there was no genocide in Kosovo to justify the NATO attack—but he continues to gloss over the heavy price of his aggression for U.S. national security. Thanks to his war America squandered a real chance to get bases in Uzbekistan by cooperating with Russia, and its cooperation with China—another key player in central and south Asia with considerable influence over Afghanistan’s neighbor Pakistan—suffered another heavy blow. Concludes Simes, “If Russia and China were in America’s corner in 1999 and 2000, the U.S. could have taken action against the Taliban and either driven them from power or at least severed their links to al Qaeda. This would have made the September 11 attacks much more difficult to organize.”
The war was ostensibly waged for human rights, but—judged by any rational standard—even on that front the NATO-UN mission in Kosovo has been and still is an utter, unmitigated disaster. Under a string of Euro-Gauleiters (Kouchner, Haekkerup, Steiner, Holkeri, Petersen…) the pretense of progress is still maintained, amidst murders, unreversed ethnic cleansing, rampant crime, prostitution, drug-smuggling, and general dysfunctionality of a thoroughly failed, violent, and dysfunctional polity devoid of a single redeeming feature. The former commander of UN forces in Bosnia, Canadian Gen. Lewis McKenzie, knows the score in the Balkans better than any think-tank “expert.” He notes that, back in 1999, “those of us who warned that the West was being sucked in on the side of an extremist, militant, Kosovo-Albanian independence movement were dismissed as appeasers”—while the fact that the KLA was universally designated a terrorist organization and known to be linked to al-Qaeda was conveniently ignored. And yet, the Albanians “have played us like a Stradivarius,” he says. If the Albanians achieve their independence with the help of our tax dollars combined with those of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, McKenzie warns, “just consider the message of encouragement this sends to other terrorist-supported movements around the world.”
Yes, do. It is high time for the realists with no axes to grind in this conflict to resist the curiously undead Clinton model of the new Balkan order—known to its proponents as “the unfinished business”—that seeks to satisfy the aspirations of all ethnic groups in former Yugoslavia, all, that is, except those of the Serbs. A Carthaginian peace may be imposed on Serbia today, but the Radicals will be in power in Belgrade next year as a consequence, and the resulting upheaval will merely contribute to chronic regional imbalance and strife for decades to come. That is not in America’s interest. It is in the interest of Islamists in general and Islamic terrorists in particular, and therefore it should not be condoned.
The short-to-medium-term model for the future of a fully autonomous, but certainly not sovereign, Kosovo and Metohija should be based on the Cyprus precedent; those who lament the “boundary” on the Ibar in Mitrovica should recall that it was acceptable for an ethnically divided Cyprus to join the EU in 2004, and that its de facto ethnic partition into two self-governing entities has been effectively condoned by the UN and the US. The status of Serbian shrines surrounded by the Albanian-controlled territory—Decani, Prizren, Gracanica, Pec etc.—should follow the model of exterritoriality of the Vatican, Castel Gandolfo, and St. John in Lateran vis-à-vis Italy. And finally, the status of Kosovo itself vis-à-vis Belgrade should be based on the status of the Åland Islands vis-à-vis Finland. The precedents exist, and the problem of Kosovo is neither so unique nor so intractable as to warrant a solution outside the parameters of established practices in other places where different ethnic and religious communities vie for the same space.
No effective anti-terrorist strategy is possible today without recognizing past mistakes of U.S. policy that have helped breed terrorism. Eight years of the Clinton team’s covert and overt support for the Islamist camp in the Balkans have been a moral disaster and a foreign policy debacle of the first order. Its fruits are visible in the world-wide threat that America faces today. Its chief beneficiaries were the upholders of global Jihad and their co-religionists in Sarajevo, Novi Pazar, Tetovo, Tuzi, and Pristina. The problem of Islamic terrorism may not be resolved short of a major restructuring of the current Balkan architecture that would entail splitting Bosnia-Herzegovina into three ethnically-based cantons, decentralizing Kosovo and Metohija on the basis of pre-ethnic-cleansing population patterns, and vetoing its independence. The alternative is to create a lawless black hole, centered in Pristina, that would destabilize not only Serbia but also Macedonia and Montenegro, as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina by providing the Republika Srpska with a valid precedent for secession from the Dayton edifice.
If the Bush Administration is half-serious about the GWOT, it should
(1) Fire Nicholas Burns,
(2) Reverse its current support for Bosnia’s centralization, and
(3) Accept that Kosovo should be autonomous but not independent.
To continue encouraging the global Muslim sense of righteous victimhood partly embodied in the myth of the “genocide” in Kosovo—as Bill Clinton tried doing last Sunday in his memorable interview with Mike Wallace—is to feed would-be suicide bombers with a political pap that nourishes their hate. If the war on terrorism is to be meaningful, that idiocy must stop. Pandering to Islam’s geopolitical designs—in the Balkans, or anywhere else—is not only bad, it is counterproductive. To deal with the terrorist threat effectively and on the basis of leadership willingly accepted, the United States should discard the pernicious notion of its exceptionalism. This will be resisted by the advocates of “benevolent global hegemony,” of America’s open-ended and self-justifying world mission and its supposedly unfinished business in the Balkans. They need to be confronted, because their mindset and their policies are contrary to the American interest in general, and detrimental to the specific goal of defeating jihad.
The cultural context of that policy needs to be changed, too. As the shadow of global Jihad grows darker, that elite class is following in the footsteps that are 800 years old. When they sacked Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, the Franks did not understand, or care, that the New Rome on the Bosphorus was the guardian and protector of the West against the same enemy we all face today. Their treachery opened the way for the Jihadist onslaught against Europe that did not stop until it reached Vienna in 1683. Replicating the same folly with Serbia today, by condoning the creation of an independent Muslim statelet that embodies everything that America does not stand for, brings to mind Talleyrand’s comment on Napoleon’s execution of the Duc d’Enghien: “It is worse than a crime; it is a mistake.”
This article was first presented as a paper at the international conference “Reconsidering Kosovo” organized by Christian Solidarity International and the American Councuil on Kosovo, at the Capitol Hill Club, Washington D.C., on September 28, 2006.