|Not an Empire's client in good graces|
The Balkans have, for over a century now, been a place that fires up Western imaginations and does so in a very specific way. The view that once saw the region as one of mustachioed revolutionaries, bomb throwers and brigands has been since updated to one of "ultra-nationalists", ethnic cleansers and gay bashers. The suggestion underlying either image being the love affair with violence and the failure to pay the norms allegedly adhered to in more civilized places the least regard.
Add to this cultural baggage the need of bureaucracies to justify their existence, which in the case of ad hoc tribunals means producing convictions, and it should really not come as a surprise whenever the ICTY chucks another Balkanite to jail. You don't keep a bonanza worth hundreds of millions per annum going for 17 years, by recognizing your prosecutors' consistent failure to present worthwhile evidence.
At the same time the ICTY is not merely a monstrous bureaucracy and a place to act out on cultural cliches, it is also an instrument of Imperial policy. Therefore there exists a special category of Balkanites who are never packed off to dungeons. Whenever a Balkanite becomes a client of the Empire he is magically transformed from his natural, cutthroat state into a hapless victim emphatically worthy of a virtuous Imperial intervention. Empire's Balkan clients are innocent by definition and are granted acquittals or slapped on the wrist. Sometimes the ICTY even helps with the cover up.
Knowing this you could get away with being shocked when the ICTY recently sentenced two Croatian generals to lengthy prison terms. After all, the charges referred to the closing stage of the war between Croatia and Krajina Serbs by which time Croatia had the unapologetic backing of the United States.
That however would mean forgetting the other side of US-Croatian relations. By 1999 Croatia was on the verge of international sanctions, its government was involved in a war of words with the NGOs, the Western press was penning anti-Tuđman axe jobs and the US embassy headed by William Montgomery was helping finance and organize the opposition. The wartime relationship had soured.
Tuđman was an unpleasant, parochial, ideologically-driven old man. An authoritarian-leaning president who broke little dissent and inaugurated a minor cult of personality. He was sufficiently protective of his power and image that he resented interference from the outside as much as he resented criticism from bellow. That was not going to be good enough for the Empire.
In December 1999 Tuđman died, weeks later the opposition ran with the parliamentary elections. The US welcomed the changing of the guard, had William Montgomery repeat his performance with the Serbian opposition, snubbed its former partner in death and let Croatia back into the fold. But for Croats there was to be a cost for the flirtation with substantial independence. The Empire having been made to work for the obedience of Zagreb was no longer beholden to the Croatia Tuđman represented. The Hague hunting season was on.
Before Tuđman's corpse had cooled Carla Del Ponte, the chief inquisitor of the ICTY, appeared on TV screens to inform Croats only the death of their head of state had saved him from a war crimes indictment. Soon (for ICTY's bonanza-extending glacial pace) real indictments of Tuđman's generals followed. In this context the sentences are not shocking, even if in the past the Hague had been more lenient.
The only eyebrow raising part of the verdict was ruling the convicted duo guilty on the count of participation in a "joint criminal enterprise". A conviction of which does not require the defendant to have committed a crime or had the knowledge of any as they were being committed. This represents the wholesale criminalization of the Croatian August 1995 offensive by the ICTY, which wouldn't be news, but for the fact it had been carried out with the sanction of the United States.
The USA green lighted, then assisted the operation by passing on intelligence and by disrupting Serb communications. Actually the Brijuni tapes, showcased by the ICTY as its "smoking gun", themselves indicate Tuđman had been given the support of the US to carry out his plans, provided he could accomplish them out inside a window of a few days. One part has Tuđman brief his subordinates:
"We also have the favor of the United States, but to a certain extent, if you gentlemen can execute this in a professional manner, the same way you had carried it out in Western Slavonia within a timeline of a few days, that means mind you, three or four days, to a maximum of eight days, then we can count that also politically, that we will not only not suffer political damage, but that politically we will gain in the world."The eyebrow raising part is not what the verdict says about Tuđman – having to exorcize the spirits of less than fully obedient clients is a given – but about what it would have to say about Clinton, who provided the operation with crucial diplomatic and useful tactical backing, to be the least bit consistent.