|Mujeheddin warriors in the Balkans, circa 1995|
But this is the same Izetbegović who rejected a peace plan in early 1992. That is, he rejected it, but only after signing it, along with his Serbian and Croatian counterparts. The Carrington-Cutileiro peace plan was negotiated and agreed to by all sides in the conflict before the Bosnian War broke out. And as Indian General Satish Nambiar reflected:
It is ironic that the Dayton Agreement on Bosnia [in 1995] was not fundamentally different from the Lisbon Plan drawn up by Portuguese Foreign Minister Cuteliero and British representative Lord Carrington to which all three sides had agreed before any killings had taken place, or even the Vance-Owen Plan which Karadzic was willing to sign.
Arguably, the Bosnian Muslims would have gotten a much better deal without the subsequent three years of bloodshed. But Izetbegović withdrew his signature a few weeks later, after meeting with the US ambassador. According to the New Republic, "Although Warren Zimmermann, the American representative at the talks, now denies it, most reliable reports suggest that Izetbegovic acted with U.S. approval." Of course, Izzy was already on the record as stating "I would sacrifice peace for a sovereign Bosnia-Herzegovina." And sacrifice it he did.
Which brings us to this blog post by Carl Savich at the Serbianna website. He writes:
Ossama Bin Laden played a key role in the 1992-1995 Bosnian civil war. Alija Izetbegovic not only issued him a Bosnian passport through the Bosnian Embassy in Vienna in 1993, but met with him at least on one occasion in Sarajevo in November, 1994. Bin Laden came to Bosnia at least two times. Bin Laden organized the recruitment of Arab-Afghan mujadeheen “volunteers” for Bosnia. He also used Islamic front organizations and charities to funnel money to the Bosnian Muslim regime and army.I had heard this before, and I'd also heard it denied (though not convincingly). But this is a timely reminder. Serbian sites, like others tied to a nationalist cause, should be taken skeptically, and Savich, ignoring the blogger's credo, offers no links (which is why I've done some googling and hypertexting for you). But he does offer an eyewitness account from a German journalist who encountered bin Laden outside Izetbegović's office. He also quotes from Richard Clarke's memoirs to the effect that bin Laden was able to use his mujahedin network in Bosnia to set up useful banking and networking links in Europe.
The History Commons website offers an extensive (if contentious) timeline of al-Qaeda activity in the Balkans. All of this occurred in the murky years in between bin Laden's obvious utility to the West as a proxy against Soviet power in Afghanistan, and his obvious hostility to the West, declared openly after the 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. It's no surprise that US foreign policy cuts deals with all sorts of nasty characters in pursuit of our "interests." But this episode is notable as much for what it tells us about Izetbegović as about Osama.
What's instructive is how US policy placed its bets on Izzy, even though another Bosnian leader, Fikret Abdić, preferred a negotiated settlement. By the time of the Lisbon conference, the last chance to prevent war in Bosnia, Izetbegović's term as president had already expired. And ironically, another candidate had received more votes for president in the first place...Fikret Abdić. Abdić was no angel himself, but history might have taken a different turn if he had been at the table in Lisbon.
This anticipates our later stance in Kosovo, where we rejected the popular leader Ibrahim Rugova, who preferred a peaceful solution, and instead backed the thuggish Hashim Thaçi and his KLA goons, who helped make Kosovo a much bigger mess before, during and after the war.
And that brings us to US policy in Libya, and the factions we've chosen to back there. What's unsettling about this is that Rugova, like the people of Tunisia and Egypt, had taken to heart the lessons of Gandhi and King: that peaceful resistance works just as well as violent conflict, but more importantly, leads to more desirable outcomes. What's even more unsettling is that US policymakers may be well aware of this, and chose a different path nonetheless.