Magazine article The American Conservative

The Guns of April: The Choices Are Intervene or Intervene

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Guns of April: The Choices Are Intervene or Intervene

Article excerpt

April 18, 2009

Pundits warned that the Middle East would present the newly elected president with his first international crisis. Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr could revive his forces' attacks on U.S. troops. The Iranians might try to test the new occupant of the White House. More violence between Israelis and Palestinians could force the president to "do something." And then there was the prospect of a devastating terrorist attack on the U.S. itself.

But as usual, the conventional wisdom was wrong. The leading Middle Eastern players decided to wait for the 44th president to make the first move on their regional chessboard.

Instead, the international crisis confronting the new resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue emanated from another part of the former Ottoman Empire, the Balkans. The emergency began when Samedin Xhezairi, a member of a shadowy Albanian terrorist group, Allah's Army, aka Hezbollah in Kosovo, blew himself up and killed Javier Solana, the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union, on April 16 in Pristina.

Solana was about to conclude a series of negotiations that would have led to an agreement between Serbia and leaders of the state of Kosovo whereby the northern part of the Kosovo--where the majority Serb population lives in relative isolation from Kosovo's Albanian-dominated institutions--would become an autonomous region under joint control of the Kosovo European Republic, Serbia, and the EU. The talks were sponsored by the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the UN.

Albanian and Serbian nationalists opposed the compromise, and Solana was able to win the agreement of Belgrade and Pristina only after committing Brussels to a process that would allow both Serbia and the KER to join the EU in ten years. Following Solana's assassination, Serbia and its patron, Russia, withdrew from the negotiations.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Moscow television on April 17 that the "specter of Albanian terrorism is threatening the lives of our Serbian brethren." He said that if the KER took steps to extend its sovereignty in the Serb areas in northern Kosovo, his government would have "no choice" but to deploy Russian troops to protect the Serbs. The KER countered that this constituted an "act of war," insisting on its right to control northern Kosovo and calling on the U.S. and EU to provide military assistance in "confronting Russian state-sponsored terrorism."

April 20

The Russian announcement caught President Obama and his aides by surprise. White House Press Secretary James Rubin told reporters that President Obama was still planning to take part in the Bridge Between Civilizations Conference in Jakarta, Indonesia next week, where he will give a major address on the relationship between the West and the Muslim world. He will stop in Madrid to attend Solana's funeral.

"We hope that President Obama will have a chance to meet with Prime Minister Putin to discuss the situation in the Balkans," Rubin said. His wife, CNN's Christiane Amanpour, reported last night that security forces controlled by the Serbian government and trained by the Russian police and military have infiltrated northern Kosovo in the last two days. "No comment," Rubin said with a smile when asked to respond to his wife's report.

A White House source tells The American Conservative that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has spoken with Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who assured him that there are no "concrete" Russian plans to send troops to Kosovo and that Moscow hopes to resolve the crisis in concert with Washington and Brussels. "The Russians made it clear that as long as the Kosovars refrain from changing the status quo in the north, the Russians will continue pursuing a diplomatic resolution," the source said. He added that U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Serbs have only sent limited humanitarian aid to their compatriots in northern Kosovo. …

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