Readers with exceptionally tenacious memories will recall that this pundit was opposed to the NATO intervention in Kosovo nine years ago. This may come as a surprise to readers without tenacious memories, since it is widely believed that I never saw a war I didn't like. Yet, believe it or not, I was opposed not only to the wanton bombing of Serbia, but also to the whole "inevitable" project of carving a new European Muslim state out of the flesh of that Orthodox Christian country.
I was not without sympathy for the "plight of the Kosovars," however. Like virtually all journalists at that time, not of Serbian ethnicity, I fell for a great deal of typically Balkan propagandist rubbish that has since been quietly withdrawn.
My rule of thumb, on wars, is to fight them with your enemies, when absolutely necessary; but never with your friends, and in particular, never in order to create new enemies. True, as we all know from personal experience, sometimes your friends are more irritating than your enemies, and the temptation to bomb them is always there. It is a temptation that must be resisted, however.
This temptation was surely in play with the Serbians, under the late Slobodan Milosevic, who seemed determined to inspire loathing and distrust, and suspicion that he was doing in Kosovo precisely what his nationalist allies had done in Bosnia: "ethnic cleansing," also known as the massacre of innocents. Although not nearly as monstrous as, say, Saddam Hussein, nor anything like Saddam's threat to the West, Milosevic missed as many opportunities to come clean with his diplomatic interrogators. The Serbs, who allowed this vicious old Communist, turned nationalist demagogue, to remain in power, showed very poor judgment.
But the fact that Kosovo had a significant ethnic majority of Albanian Muslims over Serbian Christians was not, in itself, sufficient argument to detach it from Serbia by main force. For if that is the argument, the state system which provides the only order the planet currently enjoys will tend to disintegrate.
Strange to say, I am with Vladimir Putin on this one, and against George W. Bush. Mr. Putin's remarks on the inspiration that Kosovo's independence has given to violent separatists in Chechnya, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and elsewhere, are entirely to the point.
Indeed, driving the Serbian government and Serbian people into the protective embrace of ex-Soviet Russia, and ultimately her ex-KGB strongman, was among several counter-productive dimensions in the war that Madeleine Albright organized, along with other ruinous Clinton interventions in areas of peripheral interest to the U.S. (Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia).
The NATO action in Kosovo brought Mr. Putin -- the hammer of the Chechens -- to power, by demonstrating that force and force alone will decide secession struggles, East or West. It restored anti-Americanism to its place in the Russian national security consensus, indirectly bringing an end to the Yeltsin reform era.
It was an incredibly stupid war to wage, and the product was on display in Brussels yesterday where the Russian ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogovin, actually threatened the use of force to prevent Kosovo's declaration of independence from going any farther.
President Bush, who was prompted to recognize the self-declared Kosovar state (together with most European powers), feels obliged to accept the fait accompli he inherited from the preceding administration. He, or his successor, will then try to resist the next stage of demands, for a Greater Albania in which Kosovo attempts to merge with Albania, and the Muslim majorities in adjoining districts of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Greece begin insurrections to join them. By recognizing Kosovo, Bush et al. have validated exactly that: a deadly new round of Balkan troubles, ripe for Islamicization.
We cannot afford to validate the principle of armed insurrection, whether in Kosovo or Chechnya or Palestine or Kashmir or northern Sri Lanka or southern Thailand or the southern Philippines or in any of the many other places where terrorism demands to be rewarded with an independent state. And, within Europe, a coupleof thousand EU policemen (about to be installed without United Nations cover, and in defiance of agreements with Serbia) cannot guarantee order in a territory that is already a European refuge for radical Islamist cells, and threatens to become Europe's terrorist safe house.
There is a deeper history here, for the understanding of which we would have to review the rest of the legacy of Ottoman imperialism in the Balkans. But that is, alas, something the Serbs understand a lot better than we do.