30 April 2011

The Death of Anti-Americanism


The defining characteristic of our time is the Empire centered on the United States of America exercising world hegemony. This comes as a grave misfortune for much of the world, but is not something that has been gravely felt in the United States. Between the increasingly out of bounds police, the shameless fleecing of the American people and the rapidly advancing US national security state this looks to be changing. We seem to be moving toward a time when Americans will increasingly have to be seen as fellow sufferers under the Empire.

29 April 2011

Guilty Unless Empire's Client in Good Graces

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.

24 April 2011

Testing the Waters, Pushing the Limit

Indian Milorad Dodik

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a land of the ridiculous, but its greatest irony is that its supposed patriots are only too happy to see foreigners exercise power in their country, knowing it will be used only against their unwilling countrymen. That leaves a man who openly states he has not a shred of feeling for BiH to act as its preeminent fighter for independence. Milorad Dodik, the president of the largest political party of the Bosnian-Herzegovian Serbs, initially toed the line and represented a great hope of the outsiders, but has since grown into a dogged anti-colonialist. He has been engaged in a tug-of-war with Bosnia's foreign tutors for several years now.

On his initiative the Assembly of Republic of Srpska recently passed a decision for a popular referendum to be held, asking the populace of Srpska to register their support or their opposition to the legal framework imposed by the High Representative in 2001 that established the Court of BiH and the Prosecutor's Office. Prior to that Bosnia and Herzegovina had no judiciary at the level of the state. Except for the Constitutional Court of BiH all judiciary institutions were found one step down, at the entity level.

The referendum will record overwhelming disagreement with the laws. Dodik vows to use that to pressure for the re-negotiation of the matter. And should that prove impossible, to refuse to comply with the Court in any way, but ask of the Assembly to declare the laws establishing the Court invalid for the territory of Repulic of Srpska. It has all been wrapped in hefty anti-colonialist rhetoric of being fed up with "the tyranny of the International Community". That subversion of the Dayton Peace Treaty and the Constitution by the High Representative must come to an end. That the representatives of the Serb people in Bosnia will no longer be blackmailed into submission or respond to threats. 

It is unclear what this will mean in practise seeing the cooperation of Srpska is hardly required for the day to day work of the Court, but it has been more than enough to have every foreigner invested in the colony up in arms about it. From the "HR/EUSR", to EU, to State Department, to PIC, to the ever present evil witch, Doris Pack and a bunch of other nobodies, all have stated their dissatisfaction in excited tones.

It seems a move whose value is mainly symbolic is quite enough to arouse the feeling of insecurity and sow panic among the internationals if it is bold enough to strike at their lack of legitimacy, and denies their right to even have a say in Bosnia in the first place. Their mantra has been that this represents an assault on the Bosnian state. Their only argument that an entity can not make pronouncements on institutions that are found at the state level.

That is true as far as that goes, but what they leave out is that the judiciary was never to be a domain of the central state in the first place. Seeing the closest thing to Bosnia's constitutional convention took place at a US Air Force base in the American Midwest the constitution of BiH bears a resemblance to the Constitution of the United States. Like it, it comes equipt with a provision stating only powers explicitly stated as being in the domain of the central state can indeed be in its domain. Nowhere are judiciary powers mentioned as such. Indeed the central state was without courts until 2001 when the then "High Representative" Wolfgang Petrisch conjured them up.

15 April 2011

This Is No Rebel Alliance

A galaxy far away

The Libyan opposition declined to consider a peace proposal made by the African Union because it did not fulfill all of their demands. Before that they were outraged with Turkey for just considering proposing a peace plan. Judging by this reaction one would think they are riding atop armoured columns converging on Gaddafi's tent from all directions. Instead they are a rag-tag bunch with no hope of unseating Gaddafi on their own and are slowly ceding ground to him even with the help of NATO air cover.

An absurd situation on the face of it, but not truly. As I have written interventionism changes the dynamics of the war with which it interferes:
"The group on whose behalf intervention has been launched receives incentives to refuse to settle for terms they might have settled for before the intervention; they are now incentivized to hold out for a better deal secured by the might of the intervening power. This prolongs the crisis."
Therefore this sort of stance on the part of the rebels in Libya could be predicted, but the level of hypocrisy it has been packaged in is disturbing. The rebels will not stop talking about the need to protect civilians, but if that were their main concern they would have immediately accepted the cease fire on offer. The longer the fighting lasts the more civilians are going to be killed. Obviously their main concern are their war aims, and not the civilians.

As Daniel Larison noted they went so far as to chase away a Turkish humanitarian ship. This makes sense, the graver the humanitarian crisis the louder the calls to "do more". But how does that work into their supposed concern for civilians? Or their statement, highlighted by Pepe Escobar, that things were better for civilians when the US was more involved and the bombing was more intense? That takes real cynicism.

Question is are the rebels, who are throwing a fit over their country not being bombed more intensely, really the representatives of the masses that turned up for the giant anti-government demonstrations in February? Reportedly those demonstrations were huge, jet the rebels are few. Most Libyans seem to be standing aside, acting as if they do not have a horse in the race. And why wouldn't they? Has anyone explained what makes Abdel Fattah Younis preferable to Muammar Gaddafi?

14 April 2011

Weakness or Cunning?


In the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 the Zulus at the Battle of Isandlwana handed the British a humiliating defeat by annihilating the main body of the British invasion force. The outcome of the battle won the Zulus undying glory just as it spelt doom for the Zulu Empire. Having suffered such a blow to its prestige, London upgraded the importance of the war in its schemes and resolved to invest as much resources into the fight as needed to prevail and restore its standing. Thus the very decisiveness of the victory of the Zulus at Isandlwana in the end worked to the detriment of their ultimate war aims.

In the present day, in Libya, there seems to be little danger of a decisive battle or of anything else particularly dramatic. For a while now the fighting has consisted of miniscule and rag-tag opposition forces slowly ceding ground to equally puny government forces. As Patrick Buchanan has noted this has so far been a conflict in which eight people killed constitute "heavy fighting".

Question is, is Gaddafi indeed so weak that he can not quickly and decisively beat the opposition? Or is he purposely choosing to fight with one hand tied behind his back? It would make certain sense for him to do so. Anything dramatic would get TV play and increase the media profile of the war. This in turn would increase the amount of prestige at stake in its outcome, making it more important for the intervening powers to see him overthrown. Keeping the war boring however helps war fatigue set in, making it more difficult for advocates of increased foreign involvement to get their way, all the while his forces slowly advance.

12 April 2011

Mutual Frustrations

Advancing in the wrong direction

The Libyan opposition has been voicing its frustration with NATO for unloading an insufficient tonnage of bombs, though the bombs that were unloaded were quite sufficient to kill civilians, children included, and opposition fighters themselves. Meanwhile intervening powers are no doubt equally frustrated with the opposition seeing it has been losing ground to the government which now looks well positioned to advance on Benghazi. A defeat of their clients would deal a blow to the prestige of the intervening powers.

Opposition fighters are not terribly accomplished at waging war to say the least, but more than that they have very little incentive to become better. The most straightforward way for them to win is to secure for themselves a still wider foreign intervention and have NATO do their fighting for them. In bringing about this goal loosing ground is much more useful than gaining ground, since it brings pressure on the foreigners to "do something" to change the situation. Still greater amount of pressure is brought to bear by playing up the extent of civilian suffering caused by government forces (the suffering caused by themselves and NATO is naturally ignored) and accusing foreign powers of a lack of empathy.

NATO for its part has for the umpteenth time demonstrated its impotence. The government forces quickly adapted to the new realities, switching dated tanks for technicals and unmarked cars making themselves difficult to readily distinguish from the opposing forces, and are now once more giving chase to the opposition. At the end of the day the air force is little more than a rich man's car bomb. It can destroy, kill, wreak havoc, but it can not sweep away the enemy and it is never certain it can compel it to capitulate. The idea regime change can be accomplished from the air is about as credible as the idea a revolution can be brought about by bombs planted by terrorists.

Certainly it is within NATO's ability to unseat Gaddafi, but not without risking casualties of its own - something it is historically extremely loathe to do. Killing for "humanitarian" purposes, has always held more allure for NATO forces than dying for them. In 1995 in Bosnia a workaround existed, Croatian Army could be made to intervene against the Bosnian Serbs on the behalf of the Sarajevo government. Thanks to media demonisation of the Serbs, during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia NATO could get away with going after civilian targets. This time given that Libyan opposition does not seem to be up to the task and that intervention has been ostensibly launched on behalf of the long oppressed Libyan people, rather than against it, it is a different story.

06 April 2011

Brussels vs Moscow


The EU created the legal framework needed to slap sanctions on Bosnian-Herzegovian politicians of its choice that Ashton was going on about way back in January. You have to love a EU documet which states measures should be imposed against "natural and legal persons whose activities undermine the sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitutional order and international personality of Bosnia and Herzegovina".

The EU which occupies Bosnia and Herzegovina, holds it in a quasi-colonial status and which just threw its full weight behind the High Representative's legalisation of a Federation government that failed to secure one third Croat support demanded by the Constitution is making it know it is getting ready to crack down on persons who undermine the sovereignty, constitutional order and international personality of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is a level of double-speak that would have Stalin blush.

This step is a theatrical move conceived in the heads of frustrated and unimaginative Brussels apparatchiks that will not have any effect on the ground. Brussels is already able to impose far more potent punitive measures indirectly via the High Representative in Sarajevo. However it serves to illustrate the marks of EU's involvement in the Balkans - hunger for control, reliance on threats and a penchant for blacklisting.

Undoubtedly some of that stems from the characteristic contempt of bureaucrats for anyone unlucky enough to be in the range of their clutches. But aside from that what we are seeing is also the result of a cultural disposition. It is an inescapable fact that we are seeing a Western institution adopt a domineering and disdainful tone in relation to the functionaries of a Balkan state. Does anyone believe the EU could get away with this sort of posture if we were talking about Norway rather than Bosnia?

Meanwhile Russian ambassador Bocan-Harchenko has stated and restated Russia's disagreement with the recent interference of the High Representative and added that the crisis should have been left to local institutions. He has once again said Russia supports the wrapping up of the supervisory regime of the Peace Implementation Council. No threats, no sanctions, no promises of blacklists. Here is a country that actually understands the meaning of sovereignty, constitutional order and independence.

At the end of the day it is illusory to expect Russia will be spending a great deal of its resources to try to accomplish the disengagement of the PIC. It is better off pursuing foreign policy goals closer to home, which are more easily attainable and may benefit it directly rather than pointlessly locking swords over Bosnia. Still it is always good to see there are non-hypocritical actors out there on the international arena. Then again Russia always was better on the Balkans than Western Europe.

05 April 2011

The Logic of Humanitarian Warfare


Mises.org published an article of mine that is a theoretical look at predictable effects of humanitarian interventionism. This way to read it.

04 April 2011

A Permanent Type of Temporary


Bosnia and Herzegovina is a land of dystopian absurdities. It boasts a UN seat though it is under the formal dictatorship of a colonial overseer. It participates in the occupation of Afghanistan though it is itself occupied. It is said to be a democracy though any elected official may at any time be ejected from his office and be barred from ever running in an election again. It boasts one constitutional court which makes decisions by a simple majority though its complement of judges is only two thirds filled, another constitutional court of whose nine judges, three are foreigners and appointed by a foreign institution. It has in Washington and Brussels a protector of its sovereignty and independence that occupy it, threaten its officials, sideline its institutions and write its laws for it.

Last week the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina suspended the ruling of the country's Central Election Commission and in phrasing his decree made sure to point out this was a temporary suspension passed for the purpose of giving the Constitutional Court of the Federation "the opportunity to pronounce itself on these issues" .

The Constitutional Court was to respond to a demand for the appraisal of constitutionality submitted by the president of the Federation installed by the last lawfully constituted House of Peoples, a Croat, Borjana Krišto. Seeing the Court was bent on handling the issue at a closed session and without her presence, to which the complainant is by law entitled, she withdrew her demand. Without her complaint there is nothing for the Court to rule on, thus the rationale given by the High Representative to suspend the ruling of the CEC is made nonsensical.

Regardless, this being Bosnia and Herzegovina the decision remains in place until the foreign rulers decide otherwise, which they have made clear they have no intention of doing. A decree which in anticipation of a ruling by the Constitutional Court which is never going to materialise and for the sake of "legal clarity" temporarily suspends the decision of a body, which actually is competent to make them, is made permanent.

In the twilight zone that is the neo-colonial Bosnia and Herzegovina "temporary" just doesn't have the same temporariness about it.

03 April 2011

Congrats!


On October 3rd a general election was held in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today, six months later, there is still no government in place at the highest, state level of power. (Along with there being an unconstitutional government at the entity level.) Not exactly world record since Iraq spent 10 months in a post-election deadlock in 2010, and Belgium - without a government since election in June - is also at 10 months. Still, half a year is no everyday accomplishment and so congratulations are in order.