Above all, what I remember is the sense of shame. A French general named Philippe Morillon had promised the terrified refugees that they would be safe. A Dutch commander had been mandated to make good on this promise. The United Nations, the European Union, the “peacekeepers” of all nations had assured the terrified civilians of Bosnia-Herzegovina that the international community was stronger than Milosevic’s depraved regime and the death squads that it had spawned. And those who were so foolish as to trust this pledge were then hideously put to death. On video. In plain sight. Scanned from NATO and American satellites circulating indifferently in outer space. What must it be like to die like that, gutted like a sheep in full view of the vaunted “international community,” while your family is bullied and humbled in front of you and while your captors and killers taunt you in their stolen or borrowed United Nations blue helmets? Because yes, all that really happened, too, and meanwhile the nurturing and protective Dutch officers were photographed clinking glasses of champagne with Gen. Ratko Mladic. Shame isn’t really the word for it.
…..The European Union utterly failed Bosnia, which was in its very own “back yard.” So did the United Nations. So did the Clinton-Gore administration, for as long as it regarded Milosevic as “containable” by the use of sanctions. Bosnia did not cease to be a killing field, and Serbia did not cease to be an aggressive dictatorship until the United States armed forces took a hand. The neoconservatives, to their great honor, mostly supported an effort to prevent genocide being inflicted on Muslims: an enterprise in which Israeli interests were not involved. Many liberal and socialist humanitarians took the same view. The argument about intervention and force changed forever as a result, except that many people did not notice. Just go and look up what the leaders of today’s “anti-war” movement were saying then … too many civilian casualties (of all things!); the threat of a Vietnam-style “quagmire”; the lasting enmity of the Christian Orthodox world; above all the risk of a “longer war.”
Yes, well, we could have guaranteed a nice, short war if we had let the practitioners of genocide have their way. Except that, within a few years, the precedent of unpunished ethnic cleansing would have spread well beyond the borders of Yugoslavia. And we would never have been able to say “never again,” because dictators everywhere would have had a free pass. Why did Saddam Hussein, that great lion of the Arab and Muslim world, denounce the American bombing of the Muslim-killing Milosevic? Why did Qaddafi do the same? For the very same reason that Christian fascists in Serbia now denounce the intervention in Iraq: They know that the main foe is the United States and that this fact transcends all the others. There has been a great deal of nonsense published in the last week to the effect that an alliance with the United States can put other countries like Britain in the position of being “targeted.” Why deny this? I reflect on what was not done at Srebrenica, and on what ought to have been done in Rwanda, and on what was put off too long with the Taliban and the Baathists, and I think what an honor it is to have such enemies. Co-existence with them is not possible, which is good, because it is not desirable or tolerable, either. The Srebrenica memorial stands as enduring testimony to that inescapable conclusion.
In The Times David Aaronovitch also touches upon the theme.