Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The meaning of Milosevic (David Aaronovitch)

David Aaronovitch is insightful and illuminating, as always. One aspect of this discussion is of special interest.
"What I want to do, however, is to chronicle how the Serbian leader was responsible for the invasion of Iraq. Along a line of logic that runs, crudely, no Slobbo, no Bosnia, no Kosovo, no fashion for intervention, no Iraq.
This is also a personal journey, because, back in 1993 I was as ardent a peacenik as you could find. Or, rather, I was irritated by all these reporters filing their stuff from Balkan towns with z’s in them, emoting about villagers and implying that there was a crime of omission going on, and the international community should do something to sort it out. From the safety of London I preferred the writings of those who, like the author Misha Glenny, suggested that it was all incredibly complex over there, and that getting stuck in on one side or the other would be a terrible mistake. Diplomacy, that was the thing. Humanitarian convoys. Aid. That way no British soldiers would be killed, and truly dreadful conflict might be avoided. I distrusted those who, like Martin Bell, seemed to advocate a campaigning, tendentious journalism.
[....] As the former Yugoslavia fell apart I felt some residual sympathy for the view that, after all, things had been better before under Tito, and that all this was about the resurgence of a petty nationalism that it would have been better to discourage.[....]
Then came Srebrenica. Of course there was plenty of reason, even before July 1995, to doubt that diplomacy could save hundreds of thousands from ethnic cleansing and murder. But Srebrenica was the moment when our responsibility for all this simply could not be denied. The UN was there, in the form of Dutch soldiers supposedly protecting an enclave. Our cameras were there as Ratko Mladic swanned into the invaded town and smilingly reassured Bosnian women that everything would be dealt with. In front of our eyes, just about, with our full knowledge, thousands were taken to European fields — just as they had been 50 years earlier — and murdered en masse. It was the most shaming moment of my life. We had let it happen again.[....]
It was our Munich. When Slobbo turned his attention to Kosovo, it was Poland. Working backwards I could see that Bell and others had been right. We had betrayed the Bosnian Muslims, and we couldn’t do it again. [....]
Slobodan Milosevic, more than anyone else, caused a division within the Left and Centre Left, dividing the pacifists, anti-imperialists and anti-Americans from the anti-fascists and the internationalists. He reminded too many of us that inaction can be as toxic and murderous as action. He prepared us — for weal or woe — for the new world. RIP Slobbo."
There is much here (and in the rest of the piece) that is true and important. Retrospective history is always uncertain, and it's possible that even without Milosevic and Bosnia (combined with Rwanda) the 2003 Iraq war might have happened anyway. But for what it's worth, it's also possible that without them that war might not have been supported by people like Aaronovitch and me ... or, for that matter, Tony Blair.
But read the whole thing.
--Jeff Weintraub