How Balkanism functions as a code for political decisions can be seen in the statements of U.S. President Bill Clinton. As candidate for president in 1992, Bill Clinton proposed the use of NATO air power to save Bosnians from "deliberate and systematic extermination based on their ethnic origin."
On February 10, 1993, President Clinton still acknowledged massive human rights violations but spoke of "containing" the conflict. Containment had been the policy of the Bush, Mitterrand, and Major administrations. The policy served, in effect, to turn Bosnia over piece by piece to Serb and Croat army conquest. On April 25, 1993, Clinton proclaimed that "Hitler sent tens of thousands of soldiers to that area and was never successful in subduing it." He was ignoring the fact that the Bosnians had never asked for Western ground troops, only for a lifting of the arms embargo and for air support. On May 7, 1993, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher returned from Europe with a Balkanist stereotype to explain the refusal by the NATO powers to stop the killings. In testimony before the U.S. Con-
gress, he referred to "ancient antagonisms" and spoke of the Bosnian catastrophe as a "problem from hell."
Another Balkanist claim, advanced by Serb President Slobodan Milosevic, Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, and the British government, was that the violence was a "civil war," an "interior affair," or an "ethnic war." Among the most zealous Balkanists were the Serb nationalists, who asserted that the Bosnian conflict was part of an age-old pattern of ethnic war, that outsiders could not understand it and should leave the people of Bosnia to solve it for themselves (while keeping in place the arms embargo). By May 1993, Clinton was calling the conflict a civil war, even though Croat and Serb forces had crossed the borders into Bosnia and were fueling the violence. Clinton next spoke of a "conflict" in Bosnia that is "ultimately a matter for the parties to resolve." On February 10, 1994, Balkanism reached its conclusion: "Until these folks get tired of killing each other," Clinton said, "bad things will continue to happen." The stage was set for Srebrenica.
After Srebrenica, the U.S. Senate passed by an overwhelming margin the bipartisan Dole-Lieberman bill requiring the United States unilaterally to lift the arms embargo against the Bosnians. Both the vote and the speeches that accompanied it were a historic bipartisan repudiation of the foreign policy of an American president still in office. The Europeans had threatened to withdraw their peacekeepers from Bosnia if the arms embargo were violated. Clinton had promised to send U.S. troops to aid in any evacuation of peacekeepers. A withdrawal would have led to a crisis in Bosnia before the 1996 presidential elections.
The Clinton administration was finally moved to act. Backed
by NATO air strikes on Serb army munitions dumps and communication facilities in Bosnia, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke led negotiations that resulted in the Dayton peace agreement of November 22, 1995. Soon after, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot denounced the idea that the Bosnia tragedy was the inevitable result of "ancient hatreds"—the Balkanist stereotype that had been propounded by the same administration for two years.
The Balkanist mask, donned and removed by the Clinton administration, was put back to work by the isolationist wing of the Republican party. All of Bosnia (and its four million human lives) was not worth one American soldier, exclaimed one candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. One congressman proclaimed that "they have been fighting" in the Balkans for fifteen hundred years, oblivious to the fact that none of the major religious and ethnic groups in Bosnia had yet settled in the Balkans by that time. The culmination of the Balkanism frenzy was reached by Congressman William Goodling of Pennsylvania, who announced it "all began in the fourth-century split of the Roman Empire." These congressmen had now embraced the mythology propounded by British policy makers and pundits such as Sir Crispin Tickell, who claimed that the hatreds among Yugoslav peoples extended back "thousands of years."
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