Bosnia and Iraq, mistakes were made…
Colonel Thom Karremans (centre) has a drink with Ratko Mladić (left)
Another day, another series of grim stories in the news. I’m working on some fun posts but as long as I see news that makes me think, away we go…
A story that caught my eye is that the survivors of the Srebrenica massacre are suing the Dutch government and the UN for failing to protect their friends and families. During the Bosnian civil war in the early nineties the UN set up a series of “safe havens” for civilians. When Bosnian Serb troops moved into Srebrenica with murderous intent, the 400 Dutch troops “protecting” the civilians stood aside and basically watched the massacre unfold. In fact the Dutch colonel in charge of the troops was even filmed drinking a toast with Ratko Mladić, the leader of the Serb forces (above.) Yes, the Dutch troops were outnumbered, outgunned, and felt abandoned by their superiors in Sarajevo. They had no chance of fighting off the vastly superior Serb forces. Nonetheless it is my opinion that they should have tried. Maybe they would have all been killed or captured, but it’s equally likely that the Serbs would have called off their attack had the Dutch fiercely resisted. Instead the worst genocide in Europe since World War Two took place, with over eight thousand civilians murdered. And Ratko Mladić, the mastermind of the massacre, is still at large.
This upset me so much at the time that I even thought about travelling to Bosnia and enlisting. The draft age in Bosnia at the time was 15-65, so they would have accepted me no doubt. And it bothers me to this day, both that the UN would so shamefully fail in its self appointed task, and that for the most part the Dutch have refused to accept any responsibility for this. I’m sorry, but soldiers are supposed to fight when called to do so, it’s their job. This one incident hurt the reputation of the UN terribly as well, especially in the Muslim world. Since of course the victims of the massacre were all Muslims, and the killers were all Christians. If it had been Muslims murdering Christians, Srebrenica would be as well known as 911. Since it was Christians killing Muslims, the massacre is almost unknown in the west. You want to know why many Muslims came to hate us, Srebrenica is a good place to start. If a few hundred Christian peacekeepers had died trying to protect Muslim civilians, the whole history of the world might have been different after that.
Moving right along, more fun in Iraq. An army report just out says that the US only controls about one third of the neighbourhoods in Baghdad. That’s right, more than four years into the war and months into Bush’s vaunted surge, only one third of Baghdad is under US control. My point here is not that the surge has failed, but to illustrate something that keeps getting lost in the dust. Those neighbourhoods, like much of Iraq, have never been under America’s control. We didn’t invade with nearly enough troops to control the country, and we dismissed the Iraqi military and police forces that were controlling the country after the war was over. The result was predictable: anarchy. (And in fact the CIA pretty accurately predicted the mess in Iraq, another warning the Bush administration ignored in its wishful thinking based war planning.) This is why four years in, we are still struggling to “conquer” Iraq, against enemies who have just been getting stronger and more emboldened during those years. There’s an interesting interview just out with retired General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq during the first year of the occupation. He basically points out the same thing, that mistakes made by the occupying forces, including himself, have led to a situation where outright victory is not possible, only a stalemate at best.
Bush on the other hand continues to live in a world increasingly divorced from reality. He tried to compare Iraq to the American presence in South Korea. Again, an analogy so bad it would be funny if Americans weren’t dying every day. For one thing, in the five plus decades since the armistice ending the Korean War, some 90 USA soldiers have been killed in border incidents in Korea. Iraq tops that in a typical month. There’s other major differences as well, suffice it to say that if Bush is serious about comparing Iraq to Korea, he’s remarkably ignorant of the situation in either Iraq or Korea. Oh well, more incentive to work on my Korean War Quiz.
I suppose if I had gone to Bosnia, my life would be different too. On a lighter note, some fellow in Great Britain rented a car during the Bosnian War and drove it to Bosnia, where it was used as a field ambulance. Until it was destroyed by Serbian rocket fire. Upon returning to the UK the rental company took him to court to recover the cost of their lost vehicle from him, reasonably enough. They lost. It turned out that the contract didn’t say he couldn’t drive the car to Bosnia, and British law shields people from liability when the damage is caused by an “act of war.” hehe.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, it’s central to illustrating the post, and it’s an historically important image. Credit: AP)