Inhumanitarian Intervention


ne of the really depressing features of the Democratic political advance
is that it forwards the career of Richard Holbrooke, widely thought to
be the most likely Secretary of State under a Democratic presidency. Holbrooke
represents an aggressively imperialist United States, not perhaps at its
irrationally ultra-dangerous as in the case of a Cheney, but not much better.
He proved his credentials for the merciless pursuit of the “national interest”
in his stint in the State Department under Carter, where he was the front
person for apologetics for Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos and even
more dramatically in the protection of the murderous Indonesian occupation
of East Timor, a support policy which had not eased at the time he told
Congress on December 4, 1979, that “the welfare of the East Timorese people
is the major objective of our policy toward East Timor.” For Holbrooke,
it was not the Indonesian killing but the “centrally directed Fretilin
armed activity” that presented “a significant problem,” finally allegedly
“contained” in early 1979 (a claim that was contested by East Timorese

It is revealing that Holbrooke was on very collegial terms with his successor
in Indonesia, Paul Wolfowitz, telling an Italian audience back in 2000
that Wolfowitz’s “recent activities illustrate…the degree to which there
are still common themes between the parties,” and that “Paul and I have
been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the
presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian
interests”—note his omission of East Timorese or “human rights” interests.
Wolfowitz and Holbrooke clearly speak the same language. (The quotes are
from Tim Shorrock, “Paul Wolfowitz, Reagan’s Man in Indonesia, Is Back
at the Pentagon,”

Foreign Policy In Focus

, February, 2001.) 

Holbrooke’s admirers at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and
the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch are able to ignore Holbrooke’s record
on East Timor and the Philippines because these are not their favorite
country subjects. They prefer focusing on places where U.S. targets, rather
than U.S. client states, are allegedly misbehaving and violating human

Both Carr and HRW have focused heavily on Bosnia and Kosovo, an area in
which Hol- brooke played an important role, once again in a Democratic
(Clin- ton) administration. U.S. policy there was designed: (1) to preserve
and expand the NATO military bloc; (2) to humiliate the European Community
(later the European Union) over its inability to provide a decisive threat-making
and militarily punishing force in its own backyard; and (3) to destroy
any holdouts in the form of socialist and planned economic arrangements.

To serve these ends the Clinton administration and Holbrooke sabotaged
a stream of peace efforts between 1992 and the Dayton accord of 1995; encouraged
Bosnian Muslims to refuse to settle until their military position was improved;
helped arm Muslims and Croats to shift that balance; and finally settled
at Dayton with an agreement that imposed a Western-managed neo-colonial
regime on a Bosnia that 12 years later is an undemocratic and much divided
mini-state. Holbrooke bears substantial responsibility for this lagged
settlement and failed resolution. Amusingly, under his watch and with Clinton
administration connivance, thousands of Mujahadeen were brought into Bosnia
to help their fellow Muslims, and Al Qaeda came in as well, using Bosnia
as a training ground—2 of the 19 September 11, 2001 bombers, as well as
the “mastermind” of the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, all “fought” in
Bosnia. Osama bin Laden visited Izetbegovic in Sarajevo and had “service”
offices in both Zagreb and Sarajevo—awkward points that are carefully suppressed
by the mainstream media and Holbrooke’s Carr, HRW, and other allies and

As the engineer of the Dayton Accord in 1995, Holbrooke had to acknowledge
at the time that Milosevic played a positive role in that settlement. (“People
keep asking whether Milosevic is going to deliver on the peace agreement,”
Holbrooke said at Dayton. “It’s impossible to answer that question right
now. All we know is that he has delivered on everything…over the past
four months.”) But this, and other real world facts, didn’t prevent him
from declaring at the time of Milosevic’s death that “Milosevic started
four wars. He lost them all. The biggest of them all was the one in Bosnia,
where over 300,000 people died, two-and-a-half million homeless. And we
bombed him in August and September of 1995. We should have done this much

These are the words of a demagogue without a vestige of intellectual scruple.
Milosevic didn’t start those four wars, Slovenian and Croatian nationalists
did, with encouragement from Germany, and the “wars” began as conflicts
within Yugoslavia, not cases of external attack such as the one NATO engaged
in against Yugoslavia in 1999. Holbrooke gives the figure of 300,000 dead
in Bosnia, although two establishment research organizations (one sponsored
by the Prosecutor’s Office of the Yugoslavia Tribunal) had each long before
come up with totals of about 100,000 dead. 

Holbrooke’s vested interest in the establishment narrative about how NATO
saved Kosovo as well as Bosnia from evil men, as well as his lack of intellectual
scruple, is well illustrated in his recent op-ed column on “Russia’s Test
In Kosovo,” in the

Washington Post

(March 13, 2007). According to Holbrooke,
the Bush administration, obsessed with Iraq, paid too little attention
to “a series of Russian challenges to the stability of Europe.” Putin engaged
in policies that sometimes “look like blackmail” (i.e., his energy cut-offs
and threats, by implication the kind of thing the United States would never
do), and Putin even had the audacity to “harshly criticize” U.S. policy
at Munich with Gates, Lieberman, McCain, and Lindsey Graham “sitting in
front of him.” Presumably, the Putin stress on Bush’s unilateralism, the
attack on Iraq in violation of the UN Charter, the provocative attempt
at missile placement in Eastern Europe, and renewal of a nuclear arms race,
was offensive to this key foreign policy representative of the Democratic
Party as well as to Gates, Lieberman, McCain, and Graham. 

“Now a key test of Russia’s relationship with the West is at hand, and
Russia’s actions could determine whether there is another war in Europe.”
He is not referring to the immensely provocative effort of the Bush administration
to place new missiles in Europe near Russia’s borders. He means the threat
of a war in Kosovo that might possibly occur if Russia supports Serbia
in not giving Kosovo its independence. Do you suppose if Russia sought
to place missiles in Cuba or Venezuela Holbrooke would fail to consider
that destabilizing? 

In this


article on Kosovo, Holbrooke says that the bombing war was
closed with a UN Security Council resolution that left the final status
of Kosovo “unresolved.” This is a half-truth at best—the language of that
resolution was clear: that Kosovo would remain part of Yugoslavia. (Resolution
1244 of June 10, 1999 is explicit that calling for “substantial autonomy”
for Kosovo requires that this be done while “Reaffirming the commitment
of all Member States to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the
Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other States of the region, as set
out in the Helsinki Final Act and annex 2.”) It was only “unresolved” because
the Kosovo Albanians and United States were determined to ignore the clear
statement and grant the Albanians full independence. 

The resolution also calls on the occupation forces to perform “basic civilian
administrative functions” (which would include maintaining the peace and
protecting minorities from violence) and for “demilitarization of UCK”
(the KLA). Hol- brooke says that “NATO has protected the region ever since.”
This is untrue: the NATO occupiers incorporated the terroristic KLA into
the Kosovo Protection Corps and under the auspices of these protectors
several thousand Serbs and Roma have been killed, 200,000 Serbs and Roma
have fled Kosovo in what Jan Oberg has called “the greatest ethnic cleansing
in the Balkans” (in proportionate terms), and Kosovo is a fear-ridden,
mafia-dominated, broken society doing a large trade in drugs and women.


There is no hint at this reality in Holbrooke’s account and of course he
doesn’t mention that his boss Bill Clinton said that the objective of the
NATO war was to make Kosovo into a “multi-ethnic, tolerant, inclusive democracy.”
It had the opposite effect, as any honest person could have anticipated,
and it is today considerably more intolerant and non-inclusive than it
was before the NATO war. While Belgrade and Serbia are truly multi- ethnic
and are not subject to any trace of ethnic cleansing, Pristina and Kosovo
have terrified and shrinking minorities and ethnic cleansing is active
and threatening. 

Holbrooke favors the independence plan of former Finnish president Martti
Ahtisaari, and he explains that Serbia has forfeited its rights in Kosovo
as “a result of the policies of the former Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.”
Milo- sevic was actually elected, in contrast with Suharto in Indonesia
or Marcos in the Philippines, neither of whom Holbrooke ever called a dictator.
And if a country can be made to forfeit a piece of its territory where
inhabitants are badly treated, wouldn’t that require that Indonesia forfeit
any claims to East Timor—which was actually held based on open aggression
by Indonesia—where Holbrooke, instead of calling for forfeiture supported
Indonesia’s genocidal violence? Shouldn’t NATO and the Kosovo Albanians
have forfeited the right to rule Kosovo by their failures to protect large
minorities there from brutal ethnic cleansing? Shouldn’t Israel be forced
out of the occupied territories and the United States out of Iraq as a
result of criminal behavior? 

Holbrooke also fails to mention that prior to the NATO bombing war in 1999
the CIA was training and supplying the KLA in Kosovo and encouraging them
to believe that by provoking the Serbs into retaliation against Kosovo
Albanians they might induce a NATO intervention. Former NATO Secretary
General George Robertson has stated that before the bombing war the KLA
killed more people in Kosovo than the Serbs. Shouldn’t this willingness
to terrorize before the bombing war as well as after cause them to forfeit
any right to independence? Shouldn’t the U.S. support of that prewar terror
make it ineligible for any role in Kosovo? 

Holbrooke says that if the Russians don’t support Kosovo independence,
“NATO, which is pledged to keep peace in Kosovo, could find itself back
in battle in Europe.” What hypocrisy. There has been no peace in Kosovo,
with steady killings, massive ethnic cleansing, endemic fear, and with
no end in sight given the ideology and aims of the dominant Kosovo Albanian

Holbrooke finds the Russians quite unprincipled, with their leadership
“having no feeling whatsoever for the Serbs,” whereas Hol- brooke and company
really have feeling for the people of Kosovo (like he had for the East
Timorese) and want peace and human rights protection, although U.S. intervention
from 1992-1995 prevented peace and in Kosovo brought about an ugly war
and then a NATO- KLA regime that has engaged in ecumenical ethnic cleansing
beyond anything that happened in pre-war Kosovo—where the difficulties
were stoked by CIA policies. 


Holbrooke has had an almost regular monthly column in the

Washington Post

since January 2005. He is greatly admired by Samantha Power and her colleagues
at the Carr Center of Human Rights Policy, and by Kenneth Roth and other
leaders of Human Rights Watch. He may be our next Secretary of State if
the establishment “left” is triumphant. Holbrooke should provide continuity
from Powell-Rice and display, as he said in reference to his buddy Paul
Wolfowitz that “there are still common themes between the parties.” In
short, a ruthless imperialism is here to stay, barring a political turn
not yet in sight, though desired and supported by what may even be a public
majority at this juncture. 



Edward S. Herman is an economist and an author of numerous articles and