With only days to go before leaving the White House, Barack Obama’s ambassador in Sarajevo slapped sanctions on Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska (RS). The supposed cause, according to the official statement, was that Dodik had «actively obstructed» or posed «a significant risk of actively obstructing» the 1995 Dayton Accords, and in so doing posed «a significant threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina» (BiH).
That’s quite a mouthful for the «offense» of standing up for Bosnian Serbs’ choice, via public referendum, of a day to mark their national and spiritual identity. Despicably, Valentin Inzko, the unelected «High Representative» of Nobody in Particular, compared RS’s Day of the Republic to the founding of the World War II-era Ustaša-ruled «Independent State of Croatia» (NDH), infamous for its genocidal slaughters of Serbs, Jews, and Roma.
The Dodik sanctions episode is noteworthy for what it tells us about three related factors: the future of BiH as a state (or something pretending to be a state); the desperate effort by the late, unlamented Obama administration and their Republican and European collaborators to perpetuate their failed policies of the past quarter century; and the hope for (but not certainty of) a more enlightened U.S. policy in the Balkans, in Europe, and globally, particularly to the need to combat Islamic radicalism, not support it.
First, regarding the future of BiH, it’s not looking good. Dodik called BiH «a project with no future», saying the only viable path is a «peaceful divorce along entity lines». In response, American and EU diplomats called for more «reforms», which in practice means pushing for greater centralization of power in the hands of the Muslims at the expense of Serbs and Croats. In response to Inzko’s tirade, the RS has cut contacts with his office and endorsed a call by war veterans «to apologize to the Serb people for the insults he uttered».
Thus, this latest episode can be taken as another turn in BiH’s spiral into dysfunction. In principle, it might still be possible for the Muslims to enter into genuine negotiations with Serbs and Croats for a authentic federation that respects the rights, security needs, and identities of all three communities – the only way BiH has a chance of staying together. But that’s unlikely with the Muslims’ conviction that outside powers, notably the U.S., will maintain a thumb on the scale to assure their dominance.
Second, the Dodik sanctions need to be seen in context with other efforts of the Obama administration to «poison the well» for the Trump team as the transfer of power approached. This mostly concerned Russia: expulsion of diplomats, military deployments on Russia’s borders, and contrived hysteria over «Russian hacking» of the U.S. election. Put in its simplest form, the two interlocking defining principles of the bipartisan U.S. foreign policy establishment (or the Deep State) since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact has been continued determination to maintain Russia as the vassal state it was under Boris Yeltsin (and failing that, to break it up, for example according to the three-way partition floated by Zbigniew Brzezinski); and, as a tool in achieving the subjugation of Russia (as well as appeasing our «friends» like Saudi Arabia), championing Islamic causes, particularly against Orthodox Christian opponents. This means support for jihadist elements that began in Afghanistan in the 1980s (which gave birth to al-Qaeda) and then in Bosnia (the Iranian arms «green light» and covert U.S. air delivery of weapons and, reportedly, jihad fighters), in Kosovo (Fatos Klosi, the former head of that Albanian secret police, said he had twice seen Osama bin Laden in Tirana consulting with «prime minister» and Kosovo mafia leader Hashim Thaci planning their terrorist campaign against Serbia), and then in Libya and Syria.
In a Balkan context, the fact is that U.S. support was given to Bosnian Muslims as Muslims for the specific purpose of currying favor with the Islamic world. For example, the late Rep. Tom Lantos (Democrat, California) – then-Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee -- said the following at a Congressional hearing on Kosovo in 2007 in the lead-up to the 2008 illegal declaration of independence:
«Just a reminder to the predominantly Muslim-led government[s] in this world that here is yet another example [i.e., «another» example after BiH] that the United States leads the way for the creation of a predominantly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe. This should be noted by both responsible leaders of Islamic governments, such as Indonesia, and also for jihadists of all color and hue. The United States' principles are universal, and in this instance, the United States stands foursquare for the creation of an overwhelmingly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe».
Not to be outdone, Mr. Lantos’ Senate counterpart at the time, recently departed Vice President Joseph Biden, expressed similar views (Financial Times, January 3, 2007):
«...[A]droit diplomacy to secure Kosovo’s independence could yield a victory for Muslim democracy. . . a much-needed example of a successful US-Muslim partnership...»
In other words, American support for Islamic communities in the Balkans is not primarily driven by Balkan realities. Rather, it is guided by a larger, global concept regarding how the United States wants to be perceived in the Islamic world. It is of course a concept that has yielded only disaster. The biggest European recruiting grounds for ISIS and hotbed for its activities are in America’s «Muslim democratic» pets Kosovo and Bosnia (the Federation of BiH of course, not RS).
Third and finally, there is a chance this could change because of a transfer of power at the source of the problem: in Washington. President Donald Trump boldly declares his desire to improve ties with Russia and join with Moscow to combat radical Islamic terrorism, starting in Syria. This would be a direct repudiation of the policies of Obama, George W. Bush, and the pathological Bill Clinton. He has indicated a willingness to work with forces all over the world that will join with us in that perspective. Seen through such a lens Milorad Dodik is a natural ally, as is Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
This brings us back to why the specific last-minute decision to slap sanctions on Dodik. As he observed:
«These are not sanctions of the United States, these are sanctions of those who were defeated in elections in the U.S. and I'm not surprised by this move, because I have heard so many threats from this outgoing administration over the last ten years... The reprisal followed, but it probably wouldn't have happened had I not been invited to the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump. They could not bear to see me. The sanctions are a personal move of those who understand politics as a policy of force... The decision was announced by an administration that will two days from now go into political history, and it yet remains to be seen whether they had any suggestions from here for such a decision».
Put another way, Obama’s and Hillary’s rear guard – who unfortunately have many supporters in the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party – lashed out any way they could. As a principled and strong (one might say, «Trumpesque») figure Dodik was a tempting target.
The Trump administration is still very much in formation, and one assumes that there’s no possible way it could be worse than its predecessors. But caution is in order. When Bush was elected in 2000, and even more after the al-Qaeda attacks of 2001, there were those who flatly predicted that the U.S. would rapidly switch sides in the Balkans to confront the jihad threat. Instead, the clueless Bush, guided by neoconservatives who had supported the Clinton aggression, intensified their pro-Islamic bias across the globe, and the Balkans most all. Convinced that «moderate» Islam was the only antidote to «radical» Islam, they wanted to prove all the more desperately how much they favored Muslim causes in the Balkans and any terrorists opposed to Russia or friends of Russia.
It’s clear where Trump wants to go. The problem is, he needs to populate his administration with credentialed professionals. These will mainly be veterans of the administration of Bush the Younger, whose tendency will be to try to drag Trump back to the failures of that era. Whether they will succeed or whether Trump can break them to his will is not yet known.