Foreign Affairs

Leaping Before We Looked: The Clinton Administration’s Bosnian Failure

With Hillary Clinton surging in the polls and Democrats knifing Bush’s foreign policy and praising Bill Clinton’s, it’s time for a reality check on a supposed triumph: Team Clinton oversimplified a complex situation in Bosnia and ended up aiding and abetting Muslim extremists.

That’s the conclusion of John Schindler, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and a former National Security Agency analyst. In his new book, "Unholy Terror: Bosnia, al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad," Schindler reappraises the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and America’s decision to come to the defense of Muslims in their conflict with Serbs.

Because his conclusions are controversial, his credentials are important: Schindler’s NSA work, he says, showed him that the conventional academic and media wisdom about the Balkans was wrong. "I spent a lot of time in the Balkans and I participated in the culture, spoke the language and met many people. What I learned was that pretty much everything I thought I knew was either wrong or an even more dangerous half-truth."

In our interview, he told me that "people in the U.S. and the West were fed a steady diet of satellite-driven images, frequently horrifying, without the ability to independently verify what was really happening on the ground in Bosnia. The result was miscomprehension, the reducing of a complex ethnic and religious civil war into sound bites."

Both sides committed atrocities, Schindler notes, but those of Muslims generally went unreported. For example, "The number of Christians murdered in Sarajevo during the war by Muslim military and police, right under the noses of Western journalists, is at least in the many hundreds and probably in the low thousands. Between 1992 and 1995, some 1,300 Serb civilians were liquidated by Muslim troops based at Srebrenica; this was the precursor to the infamous July 1995 Serb offensive against that town."

Those killings did not become well-known in the West because "they were never seriously investigated by the Western press, governments or NGOs. … The view that both sides committed atrocities ran and runs contrary to the simplistic, moralistic view of the war peddled by the international media, and therefore remains unwanted by CNN and many others."

Better coverage, Schindler says, "would have admitted upfront that all sides were behaving badly and committing atrocities, and the Muslims had no monopoly on virtue or suffering. … While Muslims were certainly expelled from their homes in large numbers, so were Croats (Catholics) and Serbs (Orthodox), but only Muslim victims and refugees were really considered newsworthy. And Croatia effectively got no help at all from NATO and the U.S. when it was attacked by the Serbs in 1991; we stood by and watched."

Schindler takes pains to note that he is not "a congenital Islamophobe. I grew up in a typical postmodern American suburb, beloved of progressives, where all religions were held to be equally (in)valid." But he was appalled by Clintonian self-congratulation following the Dayton Agreement’s supposed bringing of peace to the Balkans: "The Clinton administration was uninterested in bad news from Bosnia. Dayton was their diplomatic triumph, and no amount of Islamist criminality was going to undo it."

The media also slept, either alone or with the enemy. "Western journalists failed to note that the (Bosnia) Muslim ruling party, while portraying itself as thoroughly democratic and impressively multicultural, in fact was run by and for Islamists of a radical bent, whose ideal society was revolutionary Iran. … That the Bosnian jihad was considered a major success by al-Qaida was something no journalist uttered."

Many of the Bosnian jihadists — including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the al-Qaida planner of Sept. 11 — went on to attack Western Europe or the U.S. Bosnia itself "has continued its seemingly relentless slide into crime, corruption and extremism. Radical Islam has a stronger hold there than ever before, and it remains a mystery to me why Western governments continue to not give this problem, in the heart of Europe, the attention it deserves."

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