Nation-Building and Bank Robbery: All in a Day's Work for Nato in Bosnia

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by Daniel McAdams

On the campaign trail, candidate Bush had a simple but effective foreign policy message: no more nation-building. Plain Texas-style talk. It was a promise — and a style – that resonated with the American people, who despite the screeching propaganda of the chatterers have never supported adventures abroad.

So why is it that everywhere we were engaged in under that grand wizard of the nation-builders, President Clinton, we remain engaged today? Particularly in places like the Balkans, which candidate Bush and his national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, specifically singled out for disengagement? Secretary of State Colin Powell, in his first foray last month into the Balkan minefield, not only failed to uphold candidate Bush's promise but actually promised the opposite: that we would remain "engaged" in the Balkans for the foreseeable future.

That in itself would be a bitter pill, of course, but what is worse is the manner in which we remain engaged in the Balkans. For, it was not only the fact that the US was dumping its national treasure into an area with little strategic importance, but rather that this money, used to "build democracy" in the post-communist world, has actually been engaged in undermining and destroying what little democracy had managed to seep through cracks in the region's bloody post-communist era history.

Hard as it may be for some Americans to accept, the truth is that Bosnia is further from being a democracy now than it was under Comrade Tito's rule, and the culprits are the very people we are paying enormous amounts of money to "build democracy" in the Balkans. "Nation-building," in fact, is merely a codeword for left-wing social engineering with a little bit of old-fashioned colonialism thrown in for good measure – and profit.

The Joys of Nation-Building in Bosnia

Take Bosnia, for example. Clinton's six-month occupation of post-Dayton Bosnia by Nato "peacekeepers" has now lasted more than five years and cost the US more than $15 billion. What return can we see on our investment? Have we built any democracy? Ask the political parties who have the misfortune of getting elected fairly in the new Bosnian democracy. The Croatian Democratic Union, the Serb Democratic Party, and the Muslim-dominated Party for Democratic Action have campaigned and won election after election in Bosnia only to see results arbitrarily overturned by the dictatorial rule of the UN Office of the High Representative (OHR), which uses Nato's Stabilization Force (SFOR) as its army of enforcement. In one election, the OHR's partner organization in Bosnia, the vile Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) certified with a straight face an election in which 104 percent of the population. One can never have too much democracy, perhaps.

Dayton itself was Clintonian foreign policy at its most grotesque: the warring parties are squeezed until they sign on the dotted line, the ensuing treaty then suddenly takes on a supernatural power that can only — conveniently — be properly interpreted by the Office of the High Representative. Remember the Wye accords? Rambouillet?

Thus millions of dollars have been spent by the OHR to create and fund "multi-ethnic" political parties in Bosnia. The election law jointly authored by the OHC and the OSCE disqualifies any political party that does not include at 33 percent women candidates. Millions more are spent to make sure that only these parties have access to the media. Those radio stations and newspapers that are not sufficiently respectful to the spirit of Dayton are simply shut down by the OHR. Regardless of their ownership. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been created and funded by the U.S. government in Bosnia to spew the U.S. party line.

Yet the terribly backward voter in Bosnia remains ignorant of what is best for him, and keeps voting for the nationalist parties. Not to worry, though, the OHR has a remedy for that as well: Austrian diplomat Wolfgang Petritsch, currently serving as the High Representative, simply dismisses victorious candidates from the wrong parties. In last November's parliamentary elections, for example, the right-wing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) swept the elections in the ethnic Croat regions of the joint Muslim-Croat Federation. Petritsch responded by disqualifying 13 victorious HDZ candidates. Ante Jelavic, the elected Croat member of the tripartite presidency of Bosnia, vociferously protested both the permanent minority status of the Croats in Bosnia and the heavy-handed OHR approach to his party's victory in the elections. He began the process of pulling out of the Dayton-created Muslim-Croat Federation on behalf of his constituents. Petritsch fired him and barred him from politics.

Bank Robbers for Democracy

Furious over the continued popularity of the HDZ and its gall in challenging the immeasurable wisdom of the Dayton Accords, Petritsch determined to break the party once and for all. On 18 April, on his orders, some 400 Nato troops, backed up by 80 tanks and armored fighting vehicles, 20 helicopters, and two jet aircraft blew up and robbed a private bank in the town of Mostar. The contents of the Hercegovacka Banka, one of the largest in Bosnia, were then loaded into six trucks by Nato's Stabilization Force (SFOR) troops and carted away. They left the bank in ruins, its 150,000 account-holders out of luck. The purpose of the bank robbery was to seek proof that the HDZ was a corrupt party.

That's right: the bank was not raided because there was indeed evidence of wrongdoing by the HDZ; rather, it was looted in the hopes of finding evidence of wrongdoing. In fact, little if any evidence was offered to support any claims against the bank — and certainly none against accountholders unaffiliated with the HDZ. In the US, where that little inconvenience called due process still carries some weight, a search warrant request would likely have been denied on the scant evidence provided. Never mind, Petritsch was sure something was going on there even if he had to blow up the bank to find it. The thousands of pensioners who relied on the bank for their monthly checks were told that until the audit is completed — which could take a year — their money could not be released. You have to crack a few eggs to cook a democracy omelet.

And President Bush Really Supports This?

The Bush Administration has given every indication that it supports Petritsch's raiders. As the people took to the streets to protest SFOR's theft of their assets, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Thomas Miller barked that the HDZ "uses political power to cover its criminal activities, which are extensive." In Miller's world of absolute power, there little need for such superfluities as evidence, trials, judges. Bush's Ambassador further pronounced, with elegant Marxian flourish, "All you have to do is drive around Herzegovina, see the companies that these people own, the houses they live in, the cars they are driving, and ask yourself a simple question: where did all this come from?" How dare these people own businesses and nice houses — something untoward must be going on.

Difficult as it may be for the Bush Administration to understand, the solution to Balkan woes is not heavy-handed "nation-building," or social-engineering, or open-ended occupation by foreign troops. Democracy cannot be taught using undemocratic means. Autocratic "Decisions" from on high do not teach citizens respect for the rule of law. Seizure of their assets without probable cause does not teach respect for private property. Creating artificial and foreign-funded political parties does not teach civic responsibility and the democratic process. Massive foreign assistance does not teach self-reliance and market economy.

The Bush Administration is going to have to demand some new thinking from the State Department. The president can jump-start the entrenched apparatchiks there by announcing a pull-out of our troops the Balkans. It really is that simple. Ignoring the reasons for Clinton's foreign policy debacles is a recipe for repeating them again and again. Americans clearly voted for something different.

McAdams has monitored elections throughout Central and Eastern Europe with the British Helsinki Human Rights Group. He is Senior Research Associate at the Center for Security Policy.

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