Just as we try to escape from Blair's last and bloodiest war, so his first one is coming back to haunt us

Published on December 11, 2007, Daily Mail

Category: Growing International Opposition to Imposed Solution

Stephen Glover

On Sunday, Gordon Brown was in Iraq, where he hinted that British troops will withdraw from that country soon.

Just as we are escaping the last and bloodiest of Tony Blair's wars, so the consequences of the first of his wars may be coming back to haunt us.

I mean Kosovo. On March 24, 1999, Nato started dropping bombs on Serbia, which it blamed for a series of atrocities in Kosovo in which thousands of Albanians had supposedly died.

The intention was to make the Serb army leave Kosovo, which was, and remains, Serbian territory. As the bombing began, hundreds of thousands of Albanians surged out of Kosovo.

After 11 weeks and 23,614 bombs and the deaths of about 500 of its civilians, Serbia withdrew. Tony Blair was triumphant.

Much more than Iraq three years later, this had been his war, not the Americans'. He had made the running, and now he received the plaudits.

Nearly nine years later, Mr Blair's victory is looking distinctly tarnished. In fact, things began to go wrong in Kosovo immediately after the end of the war.

The majority Albanian population in Kosovo, which had suffered persecution from Slobodan Milosevic's Serbian forces, turned on the minority Serb population. Thousands of Serbs were forced to flee across the border to Serbia; dozens were killed.

For nine years Nato forces in Kosovo have managed to keep the lid on the ethnic cleansing of Serbs by Kosovar Albanians, though there have been nasty periodic outbreaks.

Much worse is likely to follow as a result of the emergence in last month's elections of Hashim Thaci as the leader of Kosovo's largest political party.

Thaci, a former Kosovar Albanian guerrilla leader who is lucky not to be on trial for war crimes, has declared that Kosovo will unilaterally declare independence from Serbia.

America backs him; the EU and Britain are in a flap; Russia and, of course, Serbia, are adamantly opposed. Diplomatic efforts to persuade him to stay his hand failed last week. We are on the verge of an independent Kosovo.

When this happens - and Mr Thaci said yesterday that it would definitely take place before May - there are likely to be ethnic clashes in Kosovo between the remaining Serbs, who do not accept Mr Thaci's mandate, and the Albanians.

There are about 100,000 Serbs (half the prewar number) in Kosovo, mostly clustered in the north, and some two million Albanians. We may be on the verge of an ethnic conflagration.

If Serbs should be forced to flee, or if more of their churches and houses are destroyed, or if they should again be ethnically cleansed, we face this nightmare - that Serbia will invade Kosovo to defend its own people, as well reclaim a province that in international law is as much part of Serbia as the Isle of Wight is part of Britain. If that happens, we will have another war in the Balkans.

Western diplomats calculate that Serbia, which wants to join the EU, will not behave in such a way, and let's hope they're right. But there can be no doubt that what is happening represents a severe setback for western policy in respect of Kosovo and again seriously calls into question the wisdom of fighting the war in the first place.

This was a war that could have probably been avoided. In February 1999, western diplomats nearly agreed a settlement with Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia at Rambouillet near Paris that would have led to a semi-autonomous Kosovo.

Only an unreasonable insistence by the West that Nato troops should be allowed to roam about Serbia at will, and that there should be a referendum on independence for Kosovo within three years, scuppered a deal.

It was almost as though Nato, and Britain and America in particular, were spoiling for a fight. Tony Blair was building up a head of righteous anger. In an article written for an American magazine shortly after the beginning of the bombing, he called for a "new internationalism" which would not tolerate dictators who "visit horrific punishments on their own people to stay in power".

He was thinking of Slobodan Milosevic, whom he implicitly - and ridiculously - compared to Hitler. Three years later it would be Saddam Hussein's turn.

Milosevic was undoubtedly a nasty dictator but largely of the tinpot variety and far less lethal than Saddam. Nor did he present any conceivable threat to the West.

Mr Blair claimed Milosevic was guilty of killing at least 10,000 Kosovar Albanians before the war, but human rights groups have never been able to justify a number anywhere close to this.

Western governments were only too eager to believe the propaganda figures pumped out by Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which Hashim Thaci led. In fact, the KLA was guilty of war crimes against Serbs before the war, though not on the scale of Milosevic.

One of Thaci's fellow KLA guerrillas, Ramush Haradinaj, who was briefly Prime Minister of Kosovo after the war, is on trial at The Hague, accused of 17 counts of crimes against humanity for murder, rape, persecution, inhumane acts and unlawful detention.

If Mr Blair's division of Kosovar Albanians and Serbs into goodies and baddies was simplistic before the war, it has turned out to be wildly wrong since hostilities ended, with the Serb minority often being the victims of ethnic cleansing by the Kosovar Albanians.

What we have seen may be a tame prelude of what will happen once Kosovo declares its independence.

Moreover, the outcome of the war seems certain to lead to the Greater Albania which western policy makers always said they did not want. Even now they insist that an independent Kosovo must not join forces with their ethnic brothers in Albania to create one large state that might destabilise the Balkans.

How on earth can it be stopped? It does not seem very intelligent statecraft to end up with the very thing - a Greater Albania - which the West has opposed.

For Tony Blair Kosovo was a dry run for Iraq. There was the same messianic conviction, and the same slipperiness with facts, so that the Serbs were portrayed as being more heinous then they were, and the Kosovar Albanians as being more virtuous.

There was also the same disregard for practicalities. As Mr Blair gave very little thought to the consequences of invading Iraq in terms of social disorder, so he evidently did not foresee that the Serbs would become victims of ethnic cleansing, nor that western victory in the war would inevitably lead to an independent Kosovo that would in turn probably form a Muslim Greater Albania at odds with Christian Serbia.

The apparent success of the war against Serbia redoubled his absurdly inflated belief that he was a visionary leader of world stature who could, and should, intervene with America at his side, to right every wrong, regardless of the niceties of international law.

And yet whereas he was opposed at every stage over Iraq and was ultimately driven out of office because of it, the outcry over Kosovo was always much less. Mr Blair was still in his halcyon days when he bombed Serbia, and many on the Left and Right were inclined to trust him.

Let's hope that things do not run out of control in Kosovo, but actually there is very little we can do about it. We can only pray that the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians will show some moderation.

Partition of Kosovo, so that the Serb enclaves in the north were joined to Serbia, hardly seems practicable, even if it were acceptable to both parties. What about the Serb enclaves in the south of Kosovo?

Kosovo is a mess, Iraq is a bigger mess, and, I fear, Afghanistan will become a mess. Surely Gordon Brown and the Government have learned the lesson that it is a dangerous business going around invading other people's countries.

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