Clinton, the Kosovo Problem, and the Next Commander-in-Chief


By: Greg C. Reeson

It appears increasingly likely that a unilateral declaration of independence will soon be made by Kosovo, perhaps as early as December 10. By that date, negotiators from the European Union, the United States, and Russia will have submitted a report to the United Nations on efforts to reach a consensus on Kosovo’s future status.

Given Serb and Russian opposition to an independent Kosovo, it is unlikely that an agreement has been reached, leaving the international community in a bind if tensions flare up in the wake of a Kosovar declaration. Historically part of Serbia, Kosovo is largely inhabited by Albanians that make up more than 90 percent of the population. Serbs account for only 5 percent of the populace, but the Serbian government, with backing from Moscow, has indicated that it has no intention of letting Kosovo go.

A unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo is a real problem. Does NATO, which currently has around 16,000 troops deployed to Kosovo as peacekeepers, defend the Kosovo declaration with force and risk war with Serbia and confrontation with Russia? Or does NATO suppress the Kosovar Albanians that Europe and the west have supported since taking action against Serbia nearly a decade ago? If Kosovo declares independence based on an ethnic majority trapped within artificial borders, does it create a precedent for declarations of independence by other ethnic majorities in other regions, like maybe the Basque separatists in Spain or a multitude of places in the states of the former Soviet Union?

Despite the potential for another Balkan crisis, which could include a new war with Serbia, resulting from Kosovo’s expected declaration of independence, Senator and presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement on her Senate web site last week, “If the government in Pristina decides for independence, I would strongly support prompt U.S. recognition, and I would urge the European Union to do the same.”

Senator Clinton’s statement is, sadly, a reflection of the 2008 presidential field as a whole when it comes to the conduct of U.S. foreign affairs. Not one of the current front runners, from either party, has the level of foreign policy experience that this nation needs during one of its most dangerous periods. A peaceful, stable Iraq is still a long way off, Afghanistan is increasingly in danger of being lost to the Taliban, Iran is developing nuclear technology that could at some point be converted into a weapons program, Syria continues to meddle in Lebanese affairs, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rages on, China is making significant investments in its military establishment, Pakistan is in crisis, Ethiopian troops still occupy Somalia, Taiwan continues to push for independence, the Balkans are once again in danger of exploding, and the list goes on. As The Economist noted last week, “…the next president will have no time to learn on the job.”

This is an issue that should be of real concern for American voters as they head to the polls next year. We are a country at war, and threats loom around every corner. Our enemies are real, and they are many. It bodes well for us that France and Germany appear to have escaped the days of Chirac and Schroeder, and that the United States is increasingly able to count on European allies when dealing with common security concerns. But the United Nations remains ineffective, and there may well be times when America, perhaps with the help of a few friends, will have to act quickly and decisively to protect U.S. citizens and U.S. interests around the world.

In such cases, the nation will require a strong president, knowledgeable and able to make tough decisions that may not be popular within the confines of the U.N. Security Council. In the years to come, America will need a president that is able to put U.S. interests ahead of global interests, realizing that there will be occasions when unilateral action may have to trump multilateralism. So far, the four candidates most likely to win the White House have demonstrated strong knowledge of foreign affairs, but practical experience is sorely lacking. And that should give concerned voters legitimate reason for pause, and to think carefully about who will serve as our next Commander-in-Chief.

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