Tag: Bosnian War

Lawrence Eagleburger

I’m not sure if there is any irony that Lawrence Eagleburger died in the same week that Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic appeared in the Hague to face trial on genocide and crimes against humanity. Eagleburger was the only career foreign service officer to rise to the rank of Secretary of State and in his death, he is receiving plenty of accolades for his analytical mind, his straight-talk, and his diplomatic and bureaucratic skills.

My own take is more mixed. I served in INR’s office of Eastern Europe and worked as an analyst on Bosnia during the war — including responsibilities for collection of Bosnian war crimes. In that capacity, I had multiple interactions with him. I liked him and often found him very funny. But, my conclusion then, and today, is that Eagleburger was wrong on Yugoslavia of the late 1980s and early 1990s and he was dead wrong on Bosnia.

Eagleburger had served two tours in Yugoslavia during his foreign service career — including a tour as the U.S. ambassador to Belgrade — before becoming the Deputy Secretary serving under Secretary James Baker. So when Yugoslavia began to disintegrate in 1989 and ultimately dissolved in 1991, he became the point person in the Bush administration. Contrary to the description of Eagleburger as having a keen analytical mind, I saw a very different mind at work on Yugoslavia and Bosnia. He was slow to accept that the federation was on the brink of disaster and often downplayed our (INR) analyses — preferring to see the world through the lens of his ambassadorial tour from 1977 – 1980 when Belgrade (and Tito) could still exert control.

When the war broke out in Bosnia in 1992, he and the other senior Bush officials blamed it on ancient hatreds that had spiraled out of control. Eagleburger faulted us for reporting levels of civilian violence. During one briefing, he chided me for the constant flow of INR reports on the Serb ethnic cleansing campaign in northern Bosnia — he stated something to the effect that everyone knows these people hate each other and are killing each other. For him, once the war began, all parties were equally complicit in the violence. We were often pressed to provide more “balanced” assessments of the war crimes and atrocities — even though 80 – 90% of the intelligence reports from the field reflected the disproportionate level of violence by Serbs.

Two months after the public disclosure of Serb concentration camps in August 1992 and the corresponding pressure placed on the administration to do something, Eagleburger spoke on a television news broadcast and announced:

This tragedy is not something that can be settled from outside and it’s about damn well time that everybody understood that. Until the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats decide to stop killing each other, there is nothing the outside world can do about it.

I can’t speak to his longer career achievements, but I remain convinced that Eagleburger was wrong in his views on the conflict. His analytical conclusion was that the conflict was fueled by age-old ethnic hatreds and spontaneous violence about which nothing could be done. Very few Yugoslav watchers shared that view — most saw it as the deliberate manipulation of nationalism by elites.

I recall a conversation I had with him shortly after the Dayton Peace Accords were signed in 1995. He speculated that it would be the end of the Clinton administration to deploy troops to Bosnia under the Implementation Force. He refused to believe that the war — fueled by “age-old ethnic hatreds”– could end simply by putting the region’s leaders in a room and demanding they stop the fight. Yet, in the sixteen years since Dayton, much work still needs to be done to consolidate the peace, but there has been no organized inter-ethnic violence in Bosnia since the international community took a strong and robust stance against the war-time leaders. (There also was not a single American combat-related casualty during the entire 12 year U.S. deployment in support of IFOR/SFOR in Bosnia).

I guess it is fitting that Eagleburger lived long enough to see Milosevic die in the Hague and to see both Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic stand before the judges there. He once scoffed at me during an early briefing on the special United Nations commission set up mid- 1992 to assess the reports of war crimes and determine if there was sufficient evidence for a UNSC resolution to set up the ad hoc tribunal — even as he signed off on INR’s efforts to task the broader intelligence community to dedicate assets to the collection of war crimes and atrocities — he bluntly noted that the idea that anyone in the region would face any kind of international tribunal was a “pipe dream.”

He was certainly a straight talker — blunt and direct — but on the Balkans, he was also wrong.


Richard Holbrooke

I am sure there will be many views and probably a few forthcoming books on the life of Richard Holbrooke. To be sure, he was a tough and skilled diplomat. It is well known that at times, he was arrogant, self-absorbed, self-promoting, and occasionally petty. And at other times, he was engaging, generous, and charming. He was always smart and hard working.

I first met him shortly after his first visit to the Bosnian war in 1992. He went to Sarajevo as a private citizen to deliver humanitarian relief and with the intent to snap the international community into action. He was deeply affected by the seige of Sarajevo and the slaughter of civilians and was visibly angry that more wasn’t being done to stop it. When I resigned from my position as a Bosnia analyst at the State Department in August 1993, he contacted me with kind words of support and reiterated his own frustrations with the US and international efforts to control the violence (at that point he was the U.S. Ambassador to Germany).

The final book on Holbrooke’s efforts on Bosnia has yet to be written. His memoir, To End A War is a flawed and often self-serving account. Many other insiders hold a very different account of the Clinton administration’s endgame on Bosnia. I tend to concur with the later and I suspect that as the archives open in the coming decades, there will be some less than flattering accounts of Holbrooke’s behavior during the run-up to Dayton.

Nonetheless, for all his faults, throughout the war in Bosnia and throughout the negotiations at Dayton, Holbrooke was driven by his genuine conviction that something had to be done to end the slaughter of civilians. In this regard, Holbrooke was a special kind of diplomat — not necessarily because he held such convictions (there were many who shared such views), but because he wasn’t afraid to express them, defend them, and ultimately, use them as part of diplomacy.


What’s in an apology?

Serbia’s parliament is debating a resolution expressing sympathy for Srebrenica’s victims and apologizing for not doing enough to prevent the massacre. Bosnian Muslims are not likely to be happy because the resolution does not apologize explicitly for the crime of genocide — it only reads that it condemns the massacre as “the crime as it is described” in the European Parliament’s resolution passed last year.

As expected, much of the human rights community is pressing for stronger language with an explicit acknowledgment of the crime of genocide. While I am generally sympathetic with these calls, I’m also persuaded by Jennifer Lind’s work on apologies in international relations and the delicate balance that is required within apologizing states. Her work on Japan reveals both the perils of simple apologies and the perils of avoidance. Leaders that issue apologies must walk the delicate balance between atonement for past crimes while avoiding actions that provoke virulent nationalist backlashes. She cites the strategy by German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer as a model. Adenauer issued formal apologies, but domestically he allowed outlets for German nationalism by stressing Germany’s postwar achievements and allowing myths to persist that only the ss and not ordinary German citizens were involved in the Holocaust.

Serbian leaders face a similar balancing act — they need to apologize for the crimes at Srebrenica and elsewhere, but given the continuing saliency and intensity of Serb nationalism, they’ll have to find a way to do so without re-igniting the virulent and violent nationalism of the 1990s.


Margaret Moth

Margaret Moth died over the weekend after a long battle with cancer. Margaret was an incredibly talented photo-journalist who covered numerous conflicts. It was her video work, shot during the first months of the Bosnian war for CNN, that defined the war and set the standard for the way journalists — especially camera crews — filmed and reported the conflict. In July, 1992 she was hit and seriously wounded by a sniper’s bullet on sniper alley in Sarajevo. Despite her serious injuries and the long and painful recovery that followed, she returned to work to cover the Bosnian War and other conflicts.

I was always struck by how matter-of-fact she was — as she pointed out, she after all had stepped into the middle of the fight in Bosnia. But, she also believed strongly in the power of her work and the importance of giving the world a visual element to understanding war. She was an impressive person on so many levels. She will be missed.

She was featured in “Fearless: The Margaret Moth Story,” this CNN documentary made last summer:


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