The Clinton Doctrine is still barely more than a glimmer in a proud papa's eye, born as it was in the usual existential fashion of this White House on June 20, in the moment, on television.
"Mr. President," asked CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "is there, in your mind, a Clinton Doctrine?"
You bet, said legacy-minded he: "While there may well be a great deal of ethnic and religious conflict in the world . . . whether within or beyond the borders of a country, if the world community has the power to stop it, we ought to stop genocide and ethnic cleansing."
On June 22, addressing NATO troops in Macedonia, Clinton elaborated: "If somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion, and it is within our power to stop it, we will stop it."
The Clinton Doctrine is a perfectly Clintonian doctrine:
(1) It is unprecedently sweeping. It appears to commit the United States to the task of redressing grave crimes against humanity worldwide, even within the boundaries of sovereign states and even when no American interests are involved.
(2) It is half-baked. What happened in Kosovo, and what happened earlier in Bosnia and what happens all over the world, was not merely about people doing bad things to other people because they are different. It was about people exploiting differences with other people, and killing other people, in order that they might steal their land and their wealth and their share of power. The difference is everything.
(3) It is a promise with an out. The pledge is not to stop every great crime; it is to stop the crime when it is "within our power." Which means whatever any president says it means.
Finally, (4), it is at bottom a fraud. Note the use of the term "world community." There is no world community. The war against the Serbs in Kosovo was an exercise not of any global village but of the great powers, and the great powers pick and choose their moral causes. The great powers stood complacently by in the summer of 1995, when the Croats ethnically cleansed their turf in Bosnia of 300,000 Serbs, and they are standing by now, as the Kosovo Liberation Army and returning Albanian refugees rapidly cleanse Kosovo of 200,000 Serbs.
The emerging all-Albanian reality of Kosovo underscores the underlying fraud of the Clinton Doctrine, which is the idea that what the West is forging in the Balkans is a triumph for pluralism and democracy. It was a very good thing that the United States finally acted to stop the Serbs' slaughter in Kosovo, as it was a very good thing when it finally acted to stop the Serbs' slaughter in Bosnia. But it is nonsense to pretend that these accomplishments gave rise to a reversal of ethnic cleansing or anything like a pluralistic democracy.
Consider the reality of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as detailed in a searching article by Gordon N. Bardos in the April issue of the Harriman Review. As Bardos reports, four years and two missed deadlines for troop withdrawal after the Dayton Peace Accords, Bosnia is a protectorate of NATO divided into what Bardos calls three "ethnities" -- the Serbian entity of Republika Srpska, and a Croatian territory and a Bosnian territory that are uneasily federated under Dayton. Each is run by nationalist hard-liners backed up by ethnically pure military forces.
The central promise of Dayton was that the cleansed would be allowed to return home. Of 1.2 million people forced from their homes in the Bosnian war, only about 70,000 have so far been able to return to areas held by one of the other ethnic groups.
Another important aim was the establishment of central, cooperating, democratically ruled institutions of government. Here, writes Bardos, "the list of unfulfilled agreements and deadlines missed . . . is practically endless." As a result, NATO has abandoned democracy in favor of colonialism in Bosnia.
In May 1997 NATO's high representative in Bosnia was given authority to impose deadlines for progress on the three ministates; in December 1997 the high representative was given authority to impose his own solutions and to remove elected officials who were obstructing the process. And on March 5, 1999, the high representative did in fact remove from office the president of the Serb Republic, Nikola Poplasen, who had been chosen by a majority of the Bosnian Serbs in September 1998 over the candidate of NATO's choice, Biljana Plavsic.
This is what the West has forged in Bosnia, and it is what the West is forging in Kosovo, and it is far, far better than anarchy and slaughter. But it is not what the president pretends it is, and pretense is dangerous here.
Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal.