This sycophantic interview nevertheless manages to reveal a great deal about Richard Holbrooke’s attitudes and role in the Balkan wars. Even in 2003 he was clinging to factual inaccuracies that were far removed from reality.
Federal News Service
November 6, 2003 Thursday
SECTION: PRESS CONFERENCE OR SPEECH
HEADLINE: COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS BRIEFING
SPEAKER: RICHARD C. HOLBROOKE, VICE CHAIRMAN, PERSEUS, LLC, AND FORMER PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE ,U.S. MISSION TO THE U.N.
SUBJECT: “THE BALKANS: A TRIP REPORT AND UPDATE”
LOCATION: COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS, WASHINGTON ,D.C.
ROGER COHEN (editor, foreign desk, The New York Times): (In progress) — such is his renown that I learned recently there is even a “Tricky Dick” in Pristina, Kosovo. (Laughter.)
I think there are two threads, if you like, to the intellectual and professional life of Richard Holbrooke. One is the belief, I would say, in the projection of American power in the pursuit of American ideals. I feel that, from my many conversations with Dick, that the example of Europe and of what the presence of America in Europe did over a period of more than half a century in finally resolving the German question, in creating a Europe at peace, and in creating a Europe, despite the new division, so called, between “old” and “new” Europe, more unified and less in danger than ever. That example of the projection of American power I think is critical to understanding Richard Holbrooke’s work.
He is also a very strong believer, I think, in multilateralism, for want of a better word. The French complained a lot during the Dayton process that —
MR. HOLBROOKE: One Frenchman. (Laughter.)
MR. COHEN: Several Frenchmen. I heard more than one do it. That Mr. Holbrooke’s style was, shall we say, a little bit overbearing. And there is no question that Dick believes that if America doesn’t lead, nothing is going to happen on almost any front or negotiation. But still, he does believe, I think, strongly in bringing others along and not have America go it alone.
Just before I begin the questioning session, I looked back at a magazine article that I wrote about Richard Holbrooke in 1995 when the Dayton Accord was concluded. It was the cover story in the New York Times Magazine. And just to give you a sense of the man, I thought this passage conveyed something of Richard Holbrooke’s appetite, his zest for life that carries him from one adventure to the next.
“At one meal, he counts the number of clams on his plate, complains that his grilled, super rare’ tuna is smaller than his neighbor’s, and ends up eating everyone else’s dessert.
“The food is vacuumed down with impressive speed between two prolonged sorties to chat with a colleague he spotted at another table.
“When it comes to the wine, he nonchalantly tosses ice cubes into a very respectable chardonnay” — (laughter) — “and downs a glass as if it were his preferred Diet Pepsi.” (Laughter.)
The thing to understand, though, about Richard Holbrooke — (laughter) — is that this appetite is accompanied by great seriousness of purpose. I covered the last two years of the Bosnian war, in 1994 and 1995, and pretty much everyone had thrown up their hands, and Richard’s refrain that this was the greatest collective failure of the West since 1930s was ringing very true. So when he went to work in the late summer of 1995, I don’t think anybody gave his venture much chance of succeeding. But through an extraordinary mixture that I was lucky enough to witness, firsthand at times, of cajoling, of threatening, of insisting, of theatricality when needed, of reminders of America’s power and America’s ability to change things, he did eventually coax everybody to the table at Dayton and wrest an agreement that at least put an end to the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II.
But now, Dick, we are eight years on from Dayton , and while there is the absence of war, there is not a peace secure enough for the many thousand NATO troops in Bosnia — let’s begin with Bosnia — to withdraw. There are also rival armies in the different Serb, Muslim and Croat sectors, Muslim-dominated and Croat sectors of Bosnia . Are you, overall, disappointed with the results of Dayton at this point?
MR. HOLBROOKE: Why don’t you just keep going? It’s — (laughter) —
MR. COHEN: (Laughs.) But I won’t let you keep going, so be careful.
MR. HOLBROOKE: This thing about the wine is really savage.
MR. COHEN: (Chuckles.) I could read another — well, anyway — (chuckles).
MR. HOLBROOKE: Eight years ago tonight, we were inside the high barbed wire at Wright-Patterson. At least one member of our team is here tonight, “Mad Dog” Owen, Roberts Owen to the rest of you, but at Dayton , a crazy man.
Q (Off mike.)
MR. HOLBROOKE: Where’s Bob? There you are. The man was insane, let me say. One of — the great, great legal adviser we had on our delegation.
And we were locked in a hellish effort to end a war. And we achieved our goal. Eight years later, not one NATO soldier’s been killed. The — every single prediction was low-balled in terms of what’s happened since. I fully grant the laws in the agreement and the immense task that needs to be run. But against all the other agreements of the last quarter-century — Kosovo, the events in Afghanistan, the catastrophe unfolding in Iraq, which is certainly the worst foreign policy problem we’ve faced since Vietnam, not yet as bad as Vietnam, but who knows — this agreement achieved all our strategic objectives: an end to the war that, as Roger’s brilliant book, “Hearts Grown Brutal,” and much other coverage — I see Jeff Smith here from the Washington Post, who had an incredible piece in today’s Post about how Djindjic was killed. All of you who were there know that this place is a lot better off.
Now, a lot of you in the room participated in this. I see Don Bandler and I see so many other colleagues. Some of you covered us and some of you participated. And I’m very grateful you’ve turned out to get updated.
Now, to Roger’s point. What was wrong with Dayton, as I’ve said many times — I knew it at the time; I wrote it in the book — was the central government was too weak, the — three armies cannot work in a single country, and the election structure gave too good a chance to the ethnic groups. And I’ll take full responsibility for any of the mistakes at Dayton , because if I want some of the positives, I have to accept some of the negatives.
But the fact is — and Bill Nash is in the room, who was a very important part of the Dayton process; he will attest to this — we flew him in the middle of Dayton at my request. I asked Wes Clark to get in the commander who would command the troops after Dayton . And Bill came in with General Joulwan, who was then the NATO commander, with his — with all his uniform.
We told him to put on his best uniform, the most ribbons, big cigar. We introduced him to Milosevic, Tudjman, Izetbegovic, and then they crumbled. They just saw if Nash was going to command the troops, that was enough. (Laughter.)
But as everyone who was involved knows, the three armies was imposed on us by a NATO command which simply refused the responsibility of dismantling them. And that was our biggest mistake. Our biggest failure since Dayton is not to capture Karadzic and Mladic. And I have said repeatedly that I hold a specific American commander responsible. He went on television right after Dayton , Serb television, and said it wasn’t his job. We could have sent a postcard up to Pale.
MR. COHEN: Do you think a real attempt is still being made to find them?
MR. HOLBROOKE: That I leave to people who have the clearances and work on it. But I will tell you that on this trip I just came back from three weeks ago, I was assured that we were making a massive effort. And I said, “Well, that’s interesting. I was assured that every year for the last eight years.”
The fact is, until Karadzic is captured, Mladic also — they’re the bin Laden and Saddam of Europe — you can’t have full stability. Nonetheless, you go out to Sara jevo today, and it’s pretty impressive. The place is at peace. The boundary line between the federation and Republika Srpska, a line which the Pentagon and the JCS thought would be the Korean DMZ, and where they thought we’d put all our troops, as Bill Nash will remember, is exactly what Bob Owen and my colleagues and I and Wes Clark all expected; it’s about the same as the line between Virginia and the District of Columbia. You just drive right across it. Commerce is restored.
And the younger people are beginning (to knit ?) together again. As you all know if you know the area, the intermarriage and the common language and so on are very substantial there. This is not Kosovo, which I know we’ll get to later, where Serbs and Albanians — the hatred there is as deep as any ethnic hatred I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. But in Bosnia , despite the fact that the deaths were so enormous, 300,000 dead, 2.5 million refugees, the fact is this country has a chance.
The biggest problem with it is that it’s a criminal cesspool. And 62 percent of all the GDP goes into the public sector. And what that money really goes for is these criminal gangs pretending they’re ethnically based parties. And that is the tragic legacy.
So let’s differentiate. America ‘s strategic goals, on a scale of 1 to 100: high 90s. That war is not going to resume.
And you mentioned the troops. We started with 60,000 international troops, of which 20,000 were American. We’re down to about 1,200 Americans and less than 12,000 total. And the thing is moving in the right direction.
MR. COHEN: And if the place is at peace, as you suggest, with couples intermarrying and so on, why not bring those troops home?
MR. HOLBROOKE: They’ll come home.
MR. COHEN: When?
MR. HOLBROOKE: When they’re ready. I’m not —
MR. COHEN: When will that be?
MR. HOLBROOKE: I have spent my whole time in the government, as you know, fighting against exit dates. I don’t want exit dates and exit strategies, I want success strategies. And we are getting there. We’re in the fourth quarter. I am deeply opposed to the fact that the Pentagon is now reneging on President Bush’s important statement at Bondsteel in Kosovo, that we came in together and we’ll leave together.
Marc Grossman has now gone out to the region, as some of you know. And Marc went out in some substantial degree as a result of the trip Bernard Kouchner and I made at the beginning of October. And I noticed that Grossman said that they will look at ending SFOR at the end of next year. That I can live with. But when I was out there, General Jones and General Myers and others were talking about the beginning of next year transferring it to the EU. To turn the security responsibility over to the European Union, which has no such capability, except in the minds of people at the Quai d’Orsay — because they have no lift capability, they have no C-19s, they have no logistics, they have no transportation, they have no intelligence or communications capability —
MR. COHEN: But they’re doing it in Macedonia .
MR. HOLBROOKE: That’s not the same thing. There’s never been a — that was, mercifully, not the war scenario. And if it was, do you think they could handle it?
So, to turn it over to the EU prematurely not only would risk a game which is now in the fourth quarter and we’re close to success, but it would also make the most unlikely of political bed fellows — Don Rumsfeld and Jacques Chirac — because it would — by pulling the U.S. out, we would be playing into the French theory of creating a separate European defense identity and weakening the Atlantic alliance in one of the places where it was most successful. And it would also cast a terrible forward shadow on Iraq and Afghanistan , where we would give the impression that Americans, impatient as always, don’t finish the job.
But I want to stress, Roger, we could spend hours talking about what’s wrong with Bosnia . Mostar is still an awful place, the second- worst city in Europe after Mitrovica. And many other things are wrong with the place. But, from an American national interest point of view, and we’re sitting here with Iraq at this dramatic point — and everything we’re talking about, you should put up against the drama in Iraq — we’re doing okay.
MR. COHEN: What about Kosovo, should it become an independent state?
MR. HOLBROOKE: Well, Kosovo is, unfortunately, not at the same level of movement. Although, again — and I really do want to praise Marc Grossman. He’s made this trip. He and I spent a lot of time talking about it before, and I don’t agree with everything that the administration is doing here, but I think that Marc’s willingness to go out there on assignment from General Powell, Secretary Powell, and reexamine the policy is useful. And it’s given a tremendous boost to the region. I was reading the press clips, coming down here today, from all the journals in the Balkans. And in Belgrade , in Pristina, in Skopje and in Sara jevo , it’s gotten tremendous reaction because it shows the Americans care.
Now, in terms of what’s happening there, there are two things seriously wrong in Kosovo. The first is that under the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, one of whose authors was here briefly earlier this evening, Strobe Talbott, they were supposed to transfer — and I quote — “substantial autonomy” to the local population, primarily Albanians. And they haven’t done it.
And the most astonishing thing Bernard Kouchner and I saw when we got to Pristina was, as we drove in from the airport and they were briefing us, they started briefing us on the big battle over privatization. And Bernard and John Levitsky, who was with me, who was my legal adviser earlier, their jaws dropped. They said, “This is exactly the issue we were dealing with at the end of the year 2000” — the same issue, the same problems, the whole thing.
And I think Grossman has already made movement on it, because I got an e-mail from Marcie Ries yesterday that Nicky von — Nicky (sp) Lambsdorff, who’s in charge of that issue for the EU, has made a move on it.
But they didn’t transfer enough autonomy to the Albanians as they’re supposed to. In other words, they’re not implementing the resolution. In an ironic way, Bremer is trying to transfer more authority to the Iraqis faster, after only five months, in the middle of an ongoing war — because we’re still at war in Iraq , unlike the Balkans — than the U.N. had. I don’t understand this. I really don’t. But it happened, and it was the biggest surprise to me.
The second point is this:
Four years after the war ended in Kosovo, we have had one meeting between Serbs and Albanians.
That’s less than we had before the war. I personally arranged with Chris Hill and some of my colleagues — Bob Gelbard, others — arranged more meetings than that before the war. One meeting. It lasted two hours, it took place in Vienna two weeks ago, and it was a disaster.
And now — and here is where I do take serious issue with both the European Union and the administration — they’re going to say that they will review how the Kosovar Albanians are behaving, performing against benchmark criteria, in March of 2005, and then decide to how to deal with the final status issue. Their theory, to give them their due, is, things will get better over the next year and a half.
My concern, after a summer in which there were more bad incidents of Albanians doing reverse ethnic cleansing on Serbs, particularly killing these two 10-year-old kids down by the river, just butchering them — my concern, Roger, is that the exact opposite will happen and that, absent progress towards a mutually acceptable final status, the two sides will get polarized.
And here we must remember that the Serbs have a case. There are 50,000 Serbs left in Kosovo. Their lives — and here’s the difference between Bosnia and Kosovo — if American troops and even the Europeans left, Bosnia would stumble forward. Wouldn’t be great, but it wouldn’t go back to war. If the NATO troops leave Kosovo, within 48 hours there would be one of the great bloodbaths in modern history take place there. Anyone who couldn’t get north of that border would be killed. And it is really dangerous. So Kosovo —
MR. COHEN: So what would you do to resolve the answer?
MR. HOLBROOKE: Well, I think the European Union slow-walking, supported by an administration which was preoccupied with other problems after 9/11 and was contemptuous of the Balkans prior to 9/11 — it’s only recently that the administration has begun to realize that if they could get, as your newspaper printed recently — somebody said if we could get Iraq to look like Bosnia — (chuckles) — it’s quite ironic. But if the administration did not understand the need to move forward in Kosovo, the Europeans — and you made this clear in your introduction of me — never do things unless they’re pushed by the Americans, and the result has been an immensely protracted story.
Now, the big implication of this in Kosovo — here’s the bad news — while we can continue to draw down our troops in Bosnia, we only have 1,200 left; you know, barely 11 percent of what we started with. We can’t pull out of Kosovo. We’re stuck. Because if you can’t get an agreement that’s mutually acceptable to Pristina and Belgrade , you can’t leave. And that negotiation — I have my own views on the best outcome, of course.
MR. COHEN: What is that?
MR. HOLBROOKE: Well, let me start — the best outcome is anything both sides agree to. Because if both sides don’t agree, then the war goes on.
MR. COHEN: So what would you propose if you were leading negotiations?
MR. HOLBROOKE: Here’s the way I put it to the Serbs when I was in Belgrade with Bernard three weeks ago. I said to the — the Serbs have to make a historic choice. They have to choose between Kosovo and Europe . If they ever, ever want to join the European Union, and of course they do, they have to understand they can’t do it till Kosovo is resolved. If they choose Kosovo, they lose two ways, because they’re not going to get either. Kosovo is gone, and every Serb I talk to in private admitted it, even the most hard-liners, the people most famously sort of irredentist. They even have a way of explaining it: Milosevic lost Kosovo for us.
On the other hand, the Serbs have two legitimate concerns: the lives and physical safety and civil rights of the minority in Kosovo, and the extraordinarily important cultural and religious monuments, the hundreds of Medieval churches of immense beauty, which, as you — the photograph you printed alongside the article about our trip showed American troops guarding one of those Medieval churches. American troops shouldn’t be guarding churches, but under the current circumstances, that’s what they have been reduced to.
Now, what is that outcome? The American government and European government, the Union , are going to disagree on this, and no one can say it officially, but the truth is that Kosovo is gone. And it needs to be worked out in a way that protects the Serb minorities, because the Albanians will never stop till they reach their goal.
MR. COHEN: What does “gone” mean?
MR. HOLBROOKE: Gone. It’s never going to be part of Serbia again.
MR. COHEN: So, it’s going to be an independent state?
MR. HOLBROOKE: It will be something that isn’t under Belgrade . And that sounds like an independent state to me. I’ve heard a lot of sophisticated ideas about trusteeship and association and so on.
But the way to solve the problem is the way we’ve been trying to approach the Cyprus problem. A lot of my — ah, you see, all the Greeks in the room suddenly woke up. (Laughter.) It is to embed the problem within the greater European Union. That was our dream for Cyprus . We’re halfway there. The northern Cyprus hasn’t responded yet because of Denktash, as we all know. But it’s the same concept. And the Serbs have to join the European Union.
Now, there’s one —
MR. COHEN: But — (inaudible) — border changes, wouldn’t the Bosnian Serbs seize on that to carve up Bosnia ?
MR. HOLBROOKE: No. No. Everyone I asked said they wouldn’t. It was my last — you know, we saw Izetbegovic two weeks before he died. And he was in the hospital, he was full of wires, and he was clearly dying and he knew it, but his mind was very sharp. And he was absolutely explicit on this question and so was everyone else: Bosnia is not going to fall apart if Kosovo goes independent.
And by the way, I want to underscore again that it never mattered to the United States whether there’s one, two or three countries where there’s now Bosnia . What mattered was mutually acceptable international borders.
But there is one enormous implication, and that is, the country of Serbia and Montenegro — “S-a-M,” as they call it —
MR. COHEN: SaM.
MR. HOLBROOKE: SaM, which is a completely bizarre creation — half of it has 10 or 11 million people, half of it has 700,000; they have three presidents, two currencies, two central banks, two armies; they are completely independent except at the U.N. and on the international maps — the whole thing is slowing down dealing with Kosovo. And Svilanovic, the foreign minister, just tore the European Union negotiators limb from limb describing what a terrible mess this was. You may or may not agree with that. The administration chose to support that agreement even though it wasn’t a very thoughtful one.
Montenegro . In the end — there was one country under Tito; Milosevic inherited it; there are five countries now. Everyone in this room will live to see seven countries there, in my view, but it will take a while because no one wants to confront it. And that will mean continued troop presence.
But the European Union holds the key to this. They have the carrots and they’re not using them correctly. And they’re very addicted to the SaM solution. I just think it’s a mistake.
MR. COHEN: Well, it took 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall to get the first members, Poland and others that are going to enter now in May 2004. If you take a 15-, 20-year framework for the Balkans, isn’t that going to be too long?
MR. HOLBROOKE: It is a long process because of — but once it starts, if it’s done — the European — and by the way, your point is even more underscored by the fact that a lot of countries in the EU, including some of the new ones, don’t really want to keep expanding. The old ones say it’s too expensive and we can’t absorb more. And the new ones say, hey, we want to get our money first.
And then there’s the big question, Turkey , with more — which would immediately become the second-largest member of the EU. So this is a big issue.
But the EU has many intermediate steps and a tremendous amount of leverage, if they want to use it. Unfortunately, the European Union is so absorbed in other issues right now — the constitution, the French violation of 3 percent of the common currency — that it gets tricky to do.
But nonetheless, can the Europeans and the Americans afford to — in every sense of the word “afford” — leave Kosovo in its present halfway-house state? That’s the core difference. We know what Bosnia is; it’s a country. It’s a mess, but it’s a country. We don’t know what Kosovo is. I may think it’s going to be one thing, some may think another. But it isn’t resolved. And the U.N., the EU the U.S. have got the slowest possible process going.
MR. COHEN: Do you think Serbia , as a state, has begun to confront the atrocities that were perpetrated in its name?
MR. HOLBROOKE: I’m told it has. I asked everyone this. And Milosevic is widely understood now to have been behind a criminal regime. Stambolic’s — the facts on —
MR. COHEN: People who said they accept what was done in Bosnia , the killing of tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands —
MR. HOLBROOKE: You know, when you and I used to go there — and Jeff, I think, has been there more recently; he might have a view on this. I’d love to hear it, but particularly in light of his amazing article today. They used to tell me that Srebrenica — they used to say Srebrenica was invented by CNN and the New York Times.
MR. COHEN: And now?
MR. HOLBROOKE: They know it happened. And I’m told that the key thing was Stambolic — the proof of how Stambolic was abducted, which is — and then this extraordinary thing — and Jeff — where is Jeff? Where is he there? This extraordinary thing in your article today that the white van that took Milosevic to jail was the same one that Stambolic was taken off in — that is really one of those beautiful little facts.
But I’m told — Jeff, do you agree that they now accept the fact that they were very bad?
JEFF SMITH (Wasington Post): There’s more acceptance now. It grows all the time. But it’s — there’s still some resistance to rendering the remaining indictees, who are in Serbia . I guess the tribunal says there are presently seven in Serbian territory at the moment. And —
MR. COHEN: Including Mladic?
MR. SMITH: Yeah, well, there are four who have had, until recently, and three at present have roles, official roles in the government. The deputy interior minister is an indictee, and he hasn’t been asked to resign yet. In fact, there was a demonstration of 3,000 police in Belgrade last week in his behalf after the announcement of his indictment. And there is another general who is now considered a general-at-large; he doesn’t have a specific assignment, but he’s still part of the general officer corps, who also played a role in Kosovo and was just recently indicted. And he hasn’t been asked to resign yet, either.
There’s a meeting on this tomorrow in Belgrade , and that may be a turning point if they ask these people to resign or to surrender to the tribunal. But until now, the government has backed them and said that further renditions are out of the question.
MR. HOLBROOKE: No nostalgia for Milosevic anymore, though, I don’t think.
MR. COHEN: No.
MR. HOLBROOKE: I think that’s gone, and there is — even — there may be specifics, like this one you mentioned. And there are a lot of people in Bosnia itself who are still sheltering Karadzic, and that’s a serious problem. And there are people I met with who I believe are part of the process that shelters them. But still, that era is over, and that’s a big step forward. It doesn’t mean the criminal gangs aren’t still there. They are.
MR. COHEN: The last question, then I’ll turn it over to the floor.
What, if anything, do you think the history of the Balkans in the last decade, 15 years — more, decade — can teach us about Iraq ? What —
MR. HOLBROOKE: Iraq ?
MR. COHEN: Yes. What — there’s a large deployment of — I mean, there’s still a substantial deployment of U.S. troops in the Balkans, there’s a huge one in Iraq .Iraq is a country that some people think, like Yugoslavia , could easily split into at least three parts.
I guess this is a sort of roundabout way of asking you, if you were secretary of State today, what would you do about Iraq ? (Laughs; laughter.)
MR. HOLBROOKE: You know, on the — there’s a historical insight which you’re all aware of, particularly if you’ve read books like Fromkin’s “Peace to End All Peace” or Margo Macmillan’s “Paris 1919,” which is that the peacemakers of 1919 left a lot of crap around, and the Nazi era and the Cold War froze it into place, and when it thawed, it exploded.
The fundamental difference between Yugoslavia and Iraq is that Yugoslavia was ultimately broken into some of its pieces — more to come, but only after these four wars and all these — 300,000 deaths. But in Iraq, undoing the mistake that Churchill and Gertrude Bell made in Cairo in March of 1922 is not as — is not possible, because of the Kurdish factor, the Turkish factor. It was a mistake, terrible mistake. Churchill ended up writing very eloquently about “these thankless deserts” in Iraq . Anyone who studies what happened to the British between 1922 and 1932 will be struck, not — with a chilling sense of how much of this is being repeated.
So nonetheless, we’re in Iraq . I supported the intervention. I wouldn’t have recommended doing it that way, but I thought Saddam was worse than Milosevic, and the administration deserved support from those of us who had — although I might footnote that the Republicans did not support Clinton on Bosnia and Kosovo, not at all. But nonetheless, I felt it was something to — with the exception of Bob Dole. Bob Dole did; I want to stress that. The — so — but I didn’t think they would do it this way, this badly.
Now, as for the — so the operational lesson, which — I think, Roger, they’ve already almost passed the point of no return — was that they should have created an international cover for the American presence. In Bosnia , in Kosovo, in East Timor and even in Afghanistan , there was — the head of the civilian effort was never an American. In Bosnia , it was a series of high representatives, starting with Carl Bildt. It’s currently Lord Paddy Ashdown. In Kosovo, it was Bernard Kouchner, going through to Harri Holkeri, the Finnish prime minister. In East Timor , it was the brilliant Sergio Vieira de Mello, who in less than three years took a thing structurally like Kosovo and turned into an independent country. And in Afghanistan , there was a government created at the Bonn conference, which — whose security, such as it is, is provided by the Americans plus the International Security Assistance Force, which has belatedly been turned over to NATO.
Why the administration chose to use words like “occupying power” — the only worse word would have been “crusaders” —
Q (It did ?).
MR. HOLBROOKE: — which the president actually used also — why the United States chose to reject the opportunity to multilateralize an operation which they still would have controlled — no one would have contested it — is beyond me. The U.N. can’t do it and wouldn’t have wanted to do it. But it wouldn’t have been impossible. In fact, it would have been quite possible to create a more internationally acceptable presence in Baghdad to support or, to use this administration’s favorite phrase, to stand up an Iraqi government, in stages, as has happened in Kosovo, as happened in East Timor and in Afghanistan .
Now Bremer’s articles, like the one he wrote for The Washington Post — Jerry Bremer suggests that is their plan. But because the — we’re at war in Iraq , which isn’t true — wasn’t true in Balkans or in East Timor , it’s almost impossible to do this anymore.
Now — so they’re caught with a horrific problem on their hands. The security responsibility is theirs. They’re held accountable for all grievances, whether it’s their fault or not. If they can’t get the security under control, none of the other stuff from Bosnia applies. And they have created a good chunk of this problem.
And the final point, which I don’t understand, Roger, is how our policies manage to overthrow a bad Moslem Arab, because Saddam was not a good Moslem, as you all know; he was a secular Arab in the Nasser traditions — the last one, I think, of that type. Well, maybe the Syrians. But anyway, the secular bad Moslem, the kind of man Osama bin Laden would have loved to kill, if he could have, how we managed to overthrow him, create a chance for true religious freedom in Iraq, particularly among the Shi’ites, and now become the object of every jihadist in the world who, heeding bin Laden’s call, has decided that it’s easier to go to Iraq to kill Americans than it is to fly airplanes into a buildings. It is a stunning failure of public diplomacy.
The administration I was part of made a lot of mistakes, I’d be the first to admit it. President Clinton would admit it. But we worked on getting international coalitions. We delayed the entry into Kosovo, as you remember, Roger, for six months because we wanted to get a unified coalition behind us and co-op the Russians. And it was a difficult period.
But by moving at that pace, doing what they did, they paid a very heavy price.
MR. COHEN: Now, who — yes, sir? Please state your name and affiliation. And please wait for the mike. And please keep your questions concise. Thank you.
Q Dane Smith (sp) from the National Peace Corps Association. Can you comment on Macedonia , its prospects for stability and reconciliation between the Slavs and the Albanian minority?
MR. HOLBROOKE: You know, I didn’t go to Macedonia on this trip, and I’d rather just sort of side-step it. But I want to explain why I didn’t go, because it’s an indirect answer to your question.
When we were planning this trip, which was supported by the German Marshall Fund and the Mott Foundation, we planned it last summer in the Greek islands in a conference chaired by George Panpandreou. And there were people from all the Balkans there, including the deputy prime minister of Macedonia, a young, brilliant woman named Radmila — I’m sorry, I can’t remember her last name; you probably know it. And I said, should we come to Skopje ? And she said no, don’t come to Skopje on a trip focusing on Bosnia and Kosovo; we want to disengage from that problem.
Now, there is real concern in Macedonia that if there was partition of Kosovo — something we haven’t discussed yet — instead of the whole thing being kept as it is, it could lead to partition of Macedonia.
You raised Bosnia . That’s not a concern to me. But Macedonia is. But I don’t know. I’m not an expert on Macedonia .
MR. COHEN: Yes, sir.
Q Henry Owen.
MR. COHEN: Mike — wait for the mike, please.
Q I’m sorry. I’m Henry Owen. Dick, you’ve talked about one big problem in the Balkans, the ethnic hatreds, but you haven’t yet discussed the other one, which is the terrible economic situation, particularly in the larger countries, Romania and Serbia . They can’t get that situation better without more Western investment and more multilateral action among themselves.
MR. HOLBROOKE: Absolutely.
Q We’re now building a pipeline from Romania to Serbia ,Croatia . I think that’s the only multilateral project.
Do you see a future for more multilateral projects, particularly in infrastructure, which could attract Western investment?
MR. HOLBROOKE: I could not agree more, Henry, and that is why it is essential to solve the Kosovo final status issue. Because as you well know in the line of work you’re in, people are going to be very reluctant to do investments when there is an unresolved political status; when you don’t know whether Kosovo is part of Serbia or an independent country or it’s going to be partitioned further, and when everybody knows that it could still trigger another round of fighting.
So, that’s why I object to the process which is moving so slowly. And the European Union has the carrots, as I said earlier, but wants to use them very slowly. Of course, I agree with you completely.
And then, there’s the corruption issue, which I’ve mentioned over and over again, which both Jeff and Roger have covered many times, and others of you in this room. It is a serious, serious legacy of the tragedy of the Balkans.
MR. COHEN: Yes, sir?
MR. HOLBROOKE: The Greeks, by the way — there’s so many people from Greece here, that I want to just say one more word. The Greeks all understand that solving this problem is of tremendous economic value to Greece . In fact, when we solved part of the Macedonia-Greek problem — I know I’m supposed to say F.Y.R.O.M., so please excuse me — when we solved that much of the problem, look at the trade that exploded between Athens and Skopje . It created a boom. And we did that in eight hours on one day as a side trip out of the Balkans. And boy, the window was so small. Papandreou died within two months, Gligorov was almost assassinated within three months. If we hadn’t done it that day, the problem probably wouldn’t be solved to this day. You can do it if you take leadership.
And Henry, that is why — you touch on the key point. But to do it — it’s not an economic issue, Henry, it’s a political issue. You get the politics right, as Greece — you get — you fix the politics — not even all of it — like Skopje, Athens, the trade is now something like $50 (million), $60 million a month, of tremendous benefit to Salonica and to Macedonia.
MR. COHEN: Yes?
Q Robert Guard (sp). Had you tried to deal with Kosovo at Dayton , would it have made a difficult task impossible?
MR. HOLBROOKE: We couldn’t deal with Kosovo at Dayton . It isn’t — the three presidents had come to settle Bosnia .Tudjman and Izetbegovic wouldn’t have stood it. We could — keeping them there for 21 days was not easy. (Laughter.) Locking them up. And the Albanians did picket and demonstrate outside the gates. And I remember walking around the frozen fields of Wright-Patterson Air Base with Milosevic one day, and we could hear the Albanians in the distance, not even too far away, yelling slogans through bullhorns and so on, and I said, “You know, we gotta deal with this.” But it wasn’t what we came to Dayton to do. There was a war going on in Bosnia with all the deaths and homeless. There wasn’t a war in Kosovo.
But as soon as Dayton was over, we went back into the region and we got — we opened the first American office in Pristina, and alleged information office which was in fact a listening post. And we began the effort, and then it accelerated, and in ’98, it deteriorated.
But the simple answer to your question is, we couldn’t have done it at Dayton .
MR. COHEN: You had a question?
Q Sigmund Nagorsky (sp). Dick, you have worked with a number of people in Kosovo, including Wesley Clark. Would you endorse him for president? (Laughter.
) And if yes, why? And if no, why?
MR. COHEN: That’s a true Balkan question. (Laughter.)
MR. HOLBROOKE: He is the —
Q It’s a domestic question, but the most important question asked tonight. (Laughter.)
MR. HOLBROOKE: Well, Henry would disagree with you.
Well, I’ll be absolutely unambiguous here: If he’s the nominee against George Bush, I will support him. (Laughter.)
Wes Clark — look, Wes Clark was my military adviser and assistant. We went through hell together. We were shot at together. We were the only survivors of the negotiating team. All the others were killed in August of 1995 on our first effort (getting into ?) Igman. Wes repelled down the cliff looking for the — trying find them while I stayed up on the road and tried to bring some support in to help us.
He wrote Annex 1(A) of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which is the key annex in terms of creating the “We’ll shoot first, ask questions later” policies for Kosovo and Bosnia , which have resulted in zero NATO and American deaths and casualties.
He’s a terrific guy.
And I am not going to endorse anyone in the primaries because some of the other candidates, particularly John Kerry, Dick Gephardt, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards, are very close friends of mine. They supported me at the U.N. and the European Bureau. And it just would be — you know, my endorsement doesn’t mean anything, and I just want to help shape the strongest possible Democratic response next year.
But Wes is a terrific guy. And I like him a lot and I wish him well. And I think a lot of the criticism of him coming from some of his former colleagues is very unfair.
MR. COHEN: Yes, sir?
Q Lambros Papantoniou, Greek correspondent. Mr. Holbrooke, how do you assess the situation in Sanjak, between Serbia and Montenegro , since there is a lot of (tension ?).
MR. HOLBROOKE: That was —
Q In Sanjak area, between Montenegro and Serbia .
Q Sanjak. (Clarifying the pronunciation.)
MR. HOLBROOKE: Sanjak. I’m not up to date on it, but it’s part of the larger problem — this is between Serbia and Montenegro .
MR. HOLBROOKE: It’s part of the larger problem of where Montenegro is going to end up. The European Union is committed — for all those of you who don’t understand the significance of the question, European Union committed Serbia and Montenegro to a three- year period of sticking with this “SaM” thing. So everyone’s stuck with it for three years. The EU Is very committed to it. And as I said a moment ago, I don’t think it’s going to work.
MR. COHEN: Yes, Jeffrey (sp)?
Q Dick, as you know, there’s a kind of a domino theory at play in the Balkans, and there’s a deliberate slowness about the resolution of some of the issues. The theory in Western capitals at present is mostly that if things go too fast, the process will wind up in a worse situation than if they go as slowly as they are now.
The theory is, if Serbia and Montenegro break up, that’s going to encourage the Kosavars to demand their independence at about the same time or shortly thereafter; and that will in turn encourage the Bosnian Serbs to demand separation from Bosnia and association with Serbia; and in that atmosphere, the United States and its allies fear that the more nationalist-minded Bosnian Serbs might come to the fore in the aftermath of Kosovo’s independence. And the idea of delaying a resolution — behind delaying a resolution of Kosovo and its status is to try to keep the moderates — put the moderates in Belgrade in a more stable position so that they’re immune to the loss of Kosovo. Izetbegovic, with all due consideration, is probably not the guy that I would go to for information about the likelihood that the Bosnian Serb Republic is going to leave.
MR. HOLBROOKE: Yeah, but the Serbs said that too, Jeff. Everybody said that. Everybody said that.
Q Okay. Anyway, I’d still like your critique —
MR. HOLBROOKE: Dodik said it, Ivanovic said it. Everyone said it. It’s — but I understand. Go on with your scenario.
Q Well, I just want your critique of this. This is the contemporaneous view, and so I’d like your — kind of a more detailed critique of it.
MR. HOLBROOKE: Let me give you what Al Gore would could the meta critique. (Laughter.)
MR. COHEN: Sounds ominous.
MR. HOLBROOKE: Yeah, it is.
For the 11 years since I first got involved in this mess, I have heard this kind of — I’m not saying you believe this; in fact, I have every hope that you don’t; you’re just being a good journalist — (brief audio break).
(In progress following brief audio break) — as the justification for inactivity, delay, and weakness, procrastination at every single stage of the process, from my first trip there in August of ’92 on. Because the complexity of the issues, the history, the ethnic and political boundaries are so structured so that any action could, in theory, trigger another action. And delay is, therefore, always the safest thing for people who either have no vision, no courage or no understanding of the issue — in most cases, all of the above. That was certainly true in Europe and, to a tragic degree, even in Washington between 1991 and the summer of ’95.
Now, part of your scenario will happen anyway; part of your scenario I don’t think will happen. The part that will happen is it doesn’t matter what else happens in the region, the Albanians will never rest, they’ll never stop threatening action, if not taking it, until they get what they want. So it doesn’t take a divorce between Serbia and Montenegro to get to the second part of our equation.
As for Serbia-Montenegro, they can do whatever the two side want. I am just predicting that SaM will not survive. But if it does, that’s their business. I don’t care. I really don’t care. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s two countries with a shot-gun marriage arranged by Javier Solana and the European Union, and I don’t think it’s going to last, but maybe it will.
As for the trade-offs in Bosnia, no, it’s just not going to happen. But the key to all of this is international leadership. The people of the region, for reasons that go back into history, are going to require outside direction to make this work. And the new power center to make this work happens to be in Brussels, but it’s in the hands of people who have many other issues higher on their agenda.
I mean, the history of the region is — the reason outside influence is so much more effective there than in Iraq is inherent in the history of the region. First they had the Ottomans and the Austro-Hungarians. Then they had Hitler. Then they had Tito. Then they had Milosevic. Then they had — so they’re used to outside involvement, and they’d want to be part of Europe.
So — of course I’ve heard the scenarios you’ve laid out time and time again, from State Department officials, from journalists.
In Indochina, where I spent — or misspent — my youth, the French had word of this, “attentisme.
” And the smartest people sat around the cafes in Saigon, and they just wrung their hands while the worst elements took over.
And these problems have to be solved. Until they’re solved, you’re not going to have political stability throughout Europe. The EU won’t achieve its full potential. The kinds of things Henry Owen’s talking about won’t be able to fully take place. And the Southeastern quadrant of Europe, the Balkans, the Black Sea areas, including Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey itself, which is far and away the most important country in the region, for all the obvious reasons — none of this will be stable until this thing is fixed. And we’re close to it now. And the hatred is potentially manageable in Kosovo, with leadership, and it’s burning itself out slowly in Bosnia — actually, not so slowly.
MR. COHEN: One more question.
Q My name’s Tom Donlan. I can’t let you off the hook, Dick.
MR. : (Laughs.)
Q One of the most important aspects of the Bosnian project was managing U.S.-European relationships and leading the Europeans into a project where they needed to be led and told and cajoled, as was pointed out earlier.
The Iraq project has resulted in a lot of damage to the U.S.- Europe relationship. What’s your assessment? Is the damage fundamental? Are we in a place where we have come to fundamentally strategically divergent views?
MR. HOLBROOKE: On U.S.-Europe over Iraq?
Q Yeah. Yeah. And has it translated into a more kind of a general strategic divergence? How deep is the damage? Is it reparable? What would you do to repair it? And does it matter?
MR. HOLBROOKE: It’s absolutely reparable. There’s no question. Our common interests far outweigh our differences. Our differences, which we always had during the Cold War, since the Cold War, all should be manageable.
A lot of this was style. A lot of it was that we have an American government which is so openly divided that the Europeans don’t quite know who talks for us, and we are not leading, therefore, with strength, but with divisions. Some of the people in Europe, but most Europeans — and this includes a lot of people in France, by the way — would be — would want to see strong American leadership.
And Bernard Kouchner, my traveling companion in the Balkans, who many of you know is a perfect example — he supported the administration on Iraq publicly. He was the second-most popular French politician when he did this, and he’s still the second-most popular politician, with only about a 1 percent drop in his poll ratings. This is a more-than-manageable problem. The Germans don’t want to drift unconnected to the United States, for all the historical and psychological reasons that we have. And you have many people in Europe, like our friend George Papandreou in Athens, who have done incredible work minimizing the level of the problem.
But this administration, notwithstanding the speech the president made today at the National Endowment for Democracy, has not done the things — the speech was fine, but they haven’t done the things that can build support.
The most ominous country to me right now is Turkey. When Clinton left office, 65 percent of the people in Turkey said the U.S. was their best friend. Now, it’s in the mid-teens. And we have just done something that I find very hard to understand. We asked the Turks to vote to permit American — to permit Turkish troops to go to Iraq. And on October 7th, by a vote of three to one, the Turks did this. And then, we said, well, maybe we don’t really want them. And I don’t see how you can ask — and it’s one of the most important allies you have in the world, NATO ally, the most critical frontline country, to put — to make a vote of that consequence before you know absolutely in advance you’re going to take those troops.
And of course, they’re saying it’s the Iraq Governing Council, but we’re not taking the Iraq Governing Council’s position on anything else as definitive. (Laughter.) It wasn’t a good idea. And I spoke on this at the Washington Institute Monday at some length.
So Tom, I think this is all manageable. But it takes a combination of leadership, diplomacy, cultural sensitivity — which is not an effete phrase, but a real factor in international affairs — as well as the readiness to project force in the national interest when necessary.
MR. COHEN: Dick, thank you very much. Thank you all. (Applause.)
Dick alluded earlier to that moment on — there is one thing I’d like to add at the end, if I may. (Regaining the audience’s attention.)
Dick alluded earlier to that moment on Igman Mountain in 1995 when the armored personnel carrier in which his colleagues were riding came off the road and went down the mountain, killing three American diplomats. I think it’s a reminder of the American sacrifice that has gone into — and the brave diplomacy — that’s gone into at least bringing a measure of stability to the Balkans.
If you’d bear with me for one minute, I’ll just read you the passage from the same magazine piece. And your words reminded me of it.
“Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Gerstein (sp) was inside the ill-fated armored personnel carrier. On the first roll, I thought it would be one roll and stop,’ he says. We went over so slowly. Kruzel landed on top of me and said, “What’s going on?” Then I realized it was rolling. We were airborne. At one point I felt four revolutions without touching the ground. I felt the bones around my eyes break. I tried to go with the roll, not against it. There was an awful cracking and groaning, a terrible noise.’
“General Clark, scrambling over fallen trees and branches, reaches the vehicle at last. It is on its side. The wheels are burning. Gerstein (sp), the mortally injured Kruzel, and a security officer named Peter Hargreaves (sp), have managed to get out. French soldiers are gesticulating, warning Clark not to go near the vehicle because it will explode. He radios Holbrooke, on the road above, asking for a fire extinguisher.
“Then the general takes a log and pries open the hatch. He peers into the fire, caused by oil and fuel on hot pipes as the vehicle rotated and by exploding anti-tank rounds. The scene reminds him of a gas boiler in a power plant, a round, metallic interior and roaring flames.
“Frasure and Drew are utterly gone. Kruzel dies later on the way to a field hospital. Holbrooke says that when he heard of Frasure’s death, It just hit me. I yelled, “No, no, not possible!”‘ But he remained calm. Strobe Talbott, the deputy secretary of State, took one of the first conference calls from Holbrooke with President Clinton also on the line. We were all listening very carefully for any hint whatsoever of something that would have been totally understandable,’ Talbott recalls, but he was in control'” — he, Mr. Holbrooke — ” shattered, but totally in control. I remember him saying to the president, “Mr. President, we must suspend the mission long enough to bring our fallen comrades home.”‘”
So, quite a guy. (Applause.)
MR. HOLBROOKE: Thanks