You will hear it said by Republicans and the American military that they have learned the lessons of Iraq. They made many mistakes at the beginning of the war in 2004, mainly by allowing all parties to become their enemies and not working closely enough with any of the Iraqi ethnic groups. Until the Surge in 2007, American troops had to fight all sides and suffered high casualties as a result.
The unspoken part of the Surge was however that at its launch, Bush decided to form a close relationship with the Sunni section of the Iraqi population,. The Sunnis are not the biggest ethnic group in Iraq. That would be the Shia, but historically the Sunni were always the top dogs in any Iraqi division of power, despite their being a minority. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni.
Once the US realised that they could do better by working with the Sunnis rather than against them, and they forgot that Sunnis were previously the Baathists, the advantages have been obvious. Al Quaeda is being driven out progressively from the strong position they were establishing, and the rate of casualties in Baghdad is reducing.
The lesson from Iraq learned with much blood is to work with the strongest first.
It is therefore of interest watching the US’ interventions in another of the world’s trouble spots – the Balkans to see if they really have taken this on board.
The top dogs in the Balkans throughout history have undoubtedly been the Serbs. They are fiercely proud and, like the Sunnis, will not accept a lessening of their position, without firmly resisting.
The Serbian elections have just been won by Tadic’s (pictured) pro-EU faction with a thin majority, and things are moving in the right direction as far as the West is concerned. However, the US and the EU are encouraging Kosovo to immediately declare independence from Serbia, and the stability of the new government is being threatened by the anger this independence movement is causing, especially amongst Serbs.
If the lessons of Iraq were being learned, it must surely be said that you cannot intervene from outside and depose the strongest ethnic regional grouping from its traditional position of strength, without causing trouble. Unless you want to fight a war and take casualties, that is.
The Serbs are in close alliance with Russia as regards the independence of Kosovo. Is it really a good idea to rile the Serbs and push them into Putin’s arms over such a relatively minor issue as Kosovo, and make them into powerful and determined enemies in an unstable region?
The strategy when forming alliances in unstable regions, should not be to drift in, armed only with a belief in justice, fairness and western democratic ideals, and proceed to ride roughshod over ancient ethnic positions, expecting they will evaporate as soon as elections are held. It is sensible to work slowly and especially, with and not against the traditionally stronger ethnic groupings such as the Sunnis and the Serbs, whenever possible, regardless of any earlier crimes they are perceived to have committed.
Forcing Kosovan independence on the Serbs will only help Vladimir Putin to rattle his nuclear sabre, and posture threateningly, which he is most keen to do. It would surely be wiser to allow the Serbs to absorb into the EU, achieve a better economy, enjoy the benefits of being able to travel abroad, and only then address the issues of Kosovo’s demands. Let the Serbs live some of the good life first, which they have yet to savour. Let them realise they have something to lose, and don’t require them to undergo instant humiliation, to meet western goals quicker.
At the moment it looks as if the West is about to needlessly and casually trip up another hornet’s nest. The lesson from Iraq must surely be – build strong alliances with strong partners and, above all, take your time.