Tuesday, September 15, 2009

“The State Department spokesman described the meeting as 'frank and candid,' the diplomatic vocabulary for 'brutal.'”

- Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga (Page 120)

I have just finished reading a fantastic book, and I feel the need to scream from the mountain-tops to tell everyone to read it. Therefore, prepare your ears for some serious yodeling from the vicinity of Hungary until you go pick-up and read Boutros Boutros-Ghali's Unvanquished: A US-UN Saga. I picked this book up from the bargain book box on the porch of the House of Our Own bookstore a few days before I left. As I was in need of cheap books to read on the plane/train/horse-cart that did not need to be returned to a Penn library, the $2 price tag seemed appropriate for a used hard-cover book that most likely last saw use as some grad student's doorstop. However, when I finally, albeit reluctantly, started to read it, I felt like I had immediately made a new friend in Boutros. I even kept saying in my head, “Maybe I will go spend a little time with Boutros; see what he has to say”...in the next couple chapters. Did I mention I was a diplomacy dork?

My two favorite distinguishing features of the book were the enlightening descriptions of Madeline Albright - “Albright rolled her eyes and made a face, repeating what had become her standard expression of frustration with me” - and the incredible portrayal of just how destructive Great Power politics were to the Yugoslavian peace processes between 1991 and 1996. Although I recently took a class of Great Power politics and the Balkans, I had not come to realize how closely linked the more personal aspect of diplomacy – specifically its failure – was to the actual length of the 1990s Balkan War. Heretofore I believed that the three year length of the initial Serbia-Croatia-Bosnia war was linked to the internal players: Ratko Mladić, Radovan Karadžić, Franjo Tudjman, Alija Izetbegovic, and the like. However, Boutros-Ghali portrays continued combat past 1992 as a symptom of the George H.W. Bush – Bill Clinton political hand-off. Clinton and his newly appointed Department of State were loathe to support the Vance-Owen plan, which had been created only a few months earlier by Bush's State Department. Nonetheless, it still represented the best chance at peace – both at the time, and over the entire three year period.

“Worse [than rejected the Vance-Owen plan], the chances of peace being thrown away, as Clinton and [Warren] Christopher, using strong language, attacked the Vance-Owen plan as appeasement of the Serbs. They were wrong. The plan delineated a ten-province structure that would reflect all groups fairly, reconstituting Bosnia as a multiethnic and progressively demilitarized state. It would have blocked the Serb goal of creating a 'Greater Serbia.'” (Page 69)

The idea of the 'Greater Serbia' was espoused first in Ilije Garašanin's Načertanije, a mid-nineteenth century document written to solidify the idea of a Serbian nationality and identity in the face of the Ottoman Empire. It was pretty much forgotten for much of the twentieth century until the late 1980s, when Slobodan Milošević dredged from the annals of national memory. At the time, the Federal Yugoslavian state was waning in the decade after Tito's death. Milošević used the ideas inherent in the document to awaken the Serbian nationality that lay dormant underneath the 'Yugoslavian.' It worked: he became President of Serbia, and the Serbian nationality was so awake and alert it attempted to conquer the rest of Yugoslavia to create the 'Greater Serbia' mentioned above. The wavering of the Americans only helped the Serbians in the long run:

"Asked to explain what the United States intended [in lieu of the Vance-Owen plan], former secretary of state Lawrence Eagleburger said he thought the United States wanted to reduce the 43 percent of the territory that the Vance-Owen plan gave the Serbs. It would take two and a half more years of bloody war and war crimes before the United States, at Dayton, would give the Serbs 49 percent.” (Page 71)

Boutros-Ghali portrays the Clinton administration as inconsistent, unprofessional, and difficult to deal with in nearly all aspects of foreign affairs. While this might be rather severe, he makes a pretty good case. It is also not altogether too surprising, considering Clinton was elected solely on a domestic issues platform. It's the economy, stupid!

Another fantastic quotation from the book:

“Air power is an unusually seductive form of military strength because, like modern courtship, it appears to offer gratification without commitment.” (American military expert Elliott Cohen, as quoted by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Page 142)

And, to end, a short story on the hazards of multi-linguistics:

“Our conversation was conducted in French...After we hung up, Fulci [Italian Ambassador to United Nations at the time], at a noon press conference, declared that I had 'suspended' my candidacy. In French and also in English the word means a provisional hiatus, or interruption. But the American media immediately took it to mean that I had dropped out or removed my name from consideration...commentary indicated that I had withdrawn entirely...I disagreed. But the damage was done.” (Page 324)

Unfortunately, this story is rather apropos in my life, considering a recent specific personal/professional problem caused by a hole in the language barrier. I feel your pain, Boutros. The damage was done. I can only hope that I too will be 'unvanquished.'

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