Whispers of Folly and Ruin – The Ghosts of Intervention Speak

NATO DROPS THE BALL Many important lessons can be learned from the ghosts of interventions past, present and future. One hopes that these lessons will help banish the spectral gloom that has settled over an increasingly violent world. There are signs that this hard task is becoming increasingly important. Should we fail to heed history, the spectre of intervention may no longer frighten us into confronting it. One wonders if the phantoms of intervention will eventually become tolerated, ignored, and otherwise consigned to the same shadowy realm where now exist John Ashcroft's "phantoms of lost liberties." Indeed, as with Dickens' originative tale of yuletide redemption, will there be a happy ending to the tale of intervention? Let's see what the phantoms reveal. THE GHOST OF INTERVENTION PAST: BYZANTIUM, 1204 One of the best examples of intervention gone wrong occurred in 1204, when Constantinople was sacked by the forces of the 4th Crusade, led by Venice. Although there were many signs of hostility between Latins and Greeks even before 1204, it was not until a scheming pretender to the Byzantine throne got involved that the ultimate catastrophe was unleashed. By 1204, the Crusader's altruistic aims of "liberating" the Holy Land had worn a bit thin; it was obvious that the whole game was motivated by a thirst for power and wealth. Originally scheduled to pillage the Muslims, the mission was transformed with the arrival of a young man, Alexios IV Angelos, who contemporary Byzantine historiographers portrayed as a scoundrel and traitor. With the help of the pope, Angelos begged to be reinstated to his "rightful" throne. Of course, in the fractious infighting endemic to Byzantine civil life, the pretender Alexios had no chance. Yet since all that was needed was a pretext, Angelos' plea could not fail but to stir the chivalrous Latin knights to action. And so, incredibly, the "holy war" to rescue the Holy Land from the infidels was re-routed to Byzantium – a state to which the West owed a major debt of gratitude. The Byzantines, after all, were the ones who for so long had kept expansionist Islam out of Europe. It was a giant buffer state, and a preserver of Western culture and values. But it was to be betrayed by its Western co-religionists. Retelling the story of the Latin conquest, acclaimed Byzantinist Donald Nicol reveals how a scheming pope was able to ensnare the would-be "Alexios IV" Angelos towards his plan to control the Christian east. Soon after the crusaders set out, they were ordered to alter their route. Instead of the Holy Land, they were to go to Constantinople – "to right the wrong done to the young Emperor of the Greeks." Alexios was sent along with a papal legate to meet the Venetian doge, Enrico Dandolo, at which time the rhetoric of intervention flowed freely. According to Nicol, the legate stated that "by going on their errand of mercy to Constantinople, the crusaders would earn the same indulgences as for going to Jerusalem. The Doge piously observed to the Franks that they could hardly refuse to obey the order of the pope, their spiritual father. They agreed; and the Doge took the boy Emperor of Constantinople in his arms. When they reached the City and it became evident that the arrogant Greeks did not want their infant Emperor, the Doge convinced the Franks that they would have to fulfill the pope's command by force, for otherwise he would excommunicate them.. and so, concludes (the Italian chronicler) Canale, "it was through the wisdom of this great man [Dandolo] that a city as grand as Constantinople was taken; and this he did in the service of the Holy Church." As in other times and places, the Western crusaders first offered to "negotiate" with the Byzantines: we come in peace, as long as you place this man, the "rightful" emperor, on the throne. Of course, the Byzantines refused, and so the onslaught began. With a barbarity that would have made even the wickedest sultan blush, the Crusaders looted, burned, raped and murdered their way through Constantinople, stealing both saleable riches and priceless works of art, destroying age-old monasteries, and generally going against everything that their "Christian" ideals stood for. In its severity, the Latin conquest of Constantinople was ten times worse than the Ottoman conquest of 1453. Of those Ancient Greek texts which are no longer extant, several were in circulation right up until 1204. Yet none of today's "lost texts" were to survive that year. Although the terrible loss of human life is today barely an echo in our historical consciousness, we are still suffering from the cultural destruction caused by the Western sack of Constantinople. It is all but forgotten, however. While everyone recalls the rapacity of the Turks (presumable, because they were Muslim), no one remembers the violence unleashed by one Christian state on another, in a period when religion constituted the grounds for diplomatic relations. The aftermath of the invasion followed predictably enough. The Westerners, whose appetite for empire had been whetted by three previous crusades in the Levant, divided up the spoils between themselves. Being the sponsor of the whole adventure, Venice took control of the city, and the coastal areas and islands most important to expanding her maritime empire. The French, Germans and Normans divided up the rest, and "Byzantium" was cut into three disjointed parts: one in the Epiros region of Greece, the second in the northwestern half of Anatolia, and the third in the Pontus. This was to change the course of European history forever. THE GHOST OF INTERVENTION PRESENT: THE BALKANS It is immaterial whether Europe would have been better or worse off had things been different for Byzantium. Such cogitation, while entertaining, quickly becomes lost inside the maze of opinion. Yet apologists for Yugoslavia, and especially the clerics, have drawn the comparison between Western intervention in 1204 and in the 1990s. An insurmountable gulf of differing conditions and experiences makes this comparison untenable, except in one regard: that both interventions aided Islamic expansion in "Christian" lands. When I call the Balkans intervention "present," I mean the recent past as well – everything from 1990 right up to today. The fact that events there are still unfolding forces us to hold off on some judgements. But the pattern seems clear enough. It is well-known that the US armed the Bosnians, and later the Kosovar Albanians, to fight against the Serbs in Yugoslavia's complicated civil war. If ever there was a hornet's nest buzzing with potential problems, it was there. Yet those who backed the enterprise now express surprise that al Qaeda and similar mujahedin groups have become established in Bosnia, Kosovo and Albania. It is claimed that bin Laden himself, and many of his top lieutenants, hold Bosnian passports, and it is well-known that OBL tried, only a few years ago, to enter Albania. When it comes to Macedonia, where the presence of mujahedin has also been widely attested, cranky interventionists denounce altogether the idea that the terrorist pattern has followed its logical course to that beleaguered semi-state. In short, US officials and apologists consider the presence of terrorists in the Balkans an "unforeseen" complication, and not a predictable result of intervention. Next, we have the continuing saga of Kosovo. In 1999, NATO heartily complied with Kosovar invitations for intervention against Serbia. The Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova exulted, calling NATO "our own private air force." After being freed, the Kosovars got to avenge their own dead by killing and expelling the Serbian minority. Further, rather than a democratic liberation, the NATO action gave free reign to organized crime in Kosovo. As was recently attested in a Reality Macedonia interview, not even ordinary Albanians are safe from KLA/mafia intimidation. In other ways, too, the Kosovars may have gotten more than they bargained for. One of NATO's enduring legacies will be the still unknown effects of depleted uranium dropped in 1999. Despite some urbane and apologetic studies carried out on NATO's behalf, many are still suspicious. Gulf War veterans complained of all sorts of strange symptoms after being exposed to DU, and it has also been blamed for birth defects in Iraqi children. No matter how "just" a war, there can be no justification for dropping tainted, uranium-bearing bombs – especially on those one claims to be "helping." Thus, we are left with two possibilities. First is the great expense associated with getting rid of contaminated nuclear materials. Conceivably, this led NATO to use Yugoslavia as its uranium dumpster, contaminating the land, lakes and rivers with a dangerous radioactive substance. After all, NATO troops could just go home: it wasn't their land, their lakes, or their rivers. NATO's lame defense, that "it wasn't that dangerous!" still fails to answer the fundamental question: why was DU used at all? Yet perhaps another, more sordid explanation exists. There are maps which show precisely where the DU bomblets were dropped, and from these one can make some inferences. First of all, the majority of bombings occurred in the western part of Kosovo, near the border with Albania. The towns of Decani, Ponosevac, Dakovica and Dragas had the heaviest concentration of DU bombing. If one infers that DU bombs were used because they were somehow more effective, one would assume they'd be dropped on the retreating Serb army, or on fortified positions near the border with Serbia. Albania, on the other hand, offered freedom of movement and reinforcement for the KLA. So then why was the Albanian border area targeted? One of the chief complaints of the Serbs (and now, the Macedonians) is that the growing Albanian population increases regional instability, poverty and war. Might it be that NATO, in its long-term strategy, used DU in Albanian regions to put some slow, subtle restraints on population growth? This is something to think about when one looks back at those photos of Clinton and Blair kissing Albanian babies in 1999. Will these gracious crusaders for human rights be there in twenty years, when the children of those children are crippled with birth defects – if they can even have babies at all? NATO's selective use of depleted uranium (on the Kosovo-Albanian border) may show that Serbia was not the only country concerned about reducing the high Albanian birthrate. Some methods just take longer than others. There is also a second consideration. When one compares the map showing DU use with the map showing KFOR zones of deployment, it becomes clear that the majority of DU bombing occurred in what would become the Italian and German sectors. The US and UK zones, on the other hand, suffered relatively minor DU bombing. Just something to keep in mind when the US – which had already experienced DU in Iraq – claims that such an unnecessary weapon is "safe." However the Balkans ends up – politically, economically, socially and environmentally – we can be sure of one thing: its fate is no longer in the hands of its own peoples. The ghost of intervention present is a baleful one indeed. From mujahedin influence in Bosnia and also in Kosovo, to the latter's puppet government, from the show trial of Slobodan Milosevic, to the West's continuing interference in Macedonian affairs, the Balkans has become a disjointed, ugly place, where chronic upheaval benefits only its foreign overlords, and the unfortunate local politicians who aid them. I think we have already heard this story; the former masters could be the Pope, the latter unfortunates, Alexios IV Angelos. This is the true relationship between the ghosts of intervention past (Byzantium in 1204) and present (the Balkans today). THE GHOST OF INTERVENTION FUTURE: GEORGIA It's official – US special forces have arrived in Georgia. In a detailed and provocative World Net Daily report, the momentous geopolitical importance of this move is analyzed. Nowhere else in the world does intervention have more explosive possibilities than in the Caucasus. If we thought the Russians grumbled during the Winter Olympics, just wait 'til they see US military bases in their own backyard. Worse, the humiliation of being condemned by the West over their campaign in Chechnya – only to have it be ripped out from under them by the Americans – is sure to enrage Russian sensibilities. In short, the potential effects of intervention in Georgia are more dangerous than anything recent history has to offer. It's clear that the stakes are high. According to the report, containing Russia and controlling Caspian oil routes are the prime elements of America's latest "strategic victory." In an ominous sign for the future, the article also claims that "…if Washington chooses to unleash its firepower against Baghdad, Georgia could provide an extra base for the U.S. Air Force to attack Iraq from the north. If Turkey, which has expressed opposition to such a war, should balk at allowing U.S. forces to use its territory to launch strikes, Shevardnadze would be more than willing to serve Washington in this and any other actions." In other words, American ally Turkey will be allowed to sit out Iraq II, so that it can preserve its relations with the Arab world, while Shevardnadze will endanger Orthodox Georgia in order to humor the Americans. Until now, Georgia has not been an arena for mujahedin jihad. Contrary to what the official charge (which prepared the ground for the US arrival) claimed, Georgia was until now beset only by internal conflict. Yet if the US makes it a staging post for its "war on terror," poor Georgia's problems are just beginning. Georgia's interventionist mess, however, is several years in the making. Were there no void to fill, the US would not be able to step in. This fractured nation, once the preeminent Soviet vacation destination, survives in abject poverty. It has been wracked by two major civil wars in the past ten years. Each conflict has been made possible by foreign intervention. Weak Abkhaz separatists in the west have received vital aid from Russia, while the South Ossetians got aid from their brethren in "north" Ossetia (across the Russian border). In the southwest, the Muslim Georgian Adjara minority leans on Turkey, and the restive Armenian minority also makes noise from time to time. Besides all this, we have the area of interest to the Americans – the Pankisi Gorge of north Georgia, where Chechen rebels and apparently, Al Qaeda fighters, are holed up. The circumstances which have led to expanded US intervention in Georgia are complex. Basically, we can say that the Russians have played the Abkhaz separatist threat off on the Georgians, who were in turn accused of harboring Chechens in Pankisi, in order to threaten the Russians. Moscow has for months blamed Georgia for failing to crack down on Chechens in the Pankisi Gorge. Backing statements from Abkhaz leaders, Russia even claimed that some Chechens were fighting alongside Georgian militiamen in the Kodori Valley near Abkhazia. Until very recently, the US has sided with Tbilisi, denied the presence of Chechens in Pankisi, and taken a generally dim view of Russia's anti-Georgia contentions. Now, however, everything has changed, and the traditional alliances are in mortal flux. Take Abkhazia, for example. The breakaway region of Georgia has for years stuck firm with its Russian defenders, and sworn to achieve complete "freedom" from Georgia. Recently, however, Abkhazia has become increasingly dissatisfied with Russia, which of course sits prominently on the UN Security Council. It was this body which on 31 January offered a compromise plan to appease both the Georgian and Abkhaz claims. While Georgia reacted with "caution," the Abkhaz response was downright hostile: "Neither the United Nations nor the UN Security Council, nor any other international organization, has the authority to impose on us a form of settling the conflict," the prime minister of the self-declared republic of Abkhazia, Anri Jergenia, told journalists while commenting on the 31 January UN Security Council resolution on Abkhazia." This denunciation of the very grounds for intervention seems a bit rich, coming from a nation that owes its "independence" to the combined intervention of Russia and the UN. Georgia's overtures to the West have been equally strange in their own way. The consummate politician Eduard Shevardnadze once invited NATO to bomb Abkhazia, drawing the parallel to Kosovo in a rather shameless way. This reckless attempt to solicit intervention was thankfully ignored. Yet Shevardnadze pushed on, and last year NATO exercises were held for the first time on Georgian soil. That said, perhaps Tbilisi's new role in the "war on terror" should not seem so incongruous. It's unlikely, however, that this role will be to Georgia's long-term advantage. If the negative Abkhaz reaction is anything to go by, Russia appears to have made some concessions on the topic of Georgia. Let's remember that almost simultaneously, the US announced the presence of Al Qaeda in Georgia. Interestingly enough, the area mentioned – the Pankisi Gorge – borders on Chechnya. It is the one area of Georgia that Russia has long threatened to put down. Pankisi has been both the thorn in Russia's side, and the guarantor of its control over Georgia. Now this influence is gone. Over the past decade, Russia's war in Chechnya has received nothing but condemnation from the US. Now, however, the US has hijacked that war, and is preparing to fight it by itself – to the utter humiliation of Russia. In short, what we are seeing in Georgia right now is unprecedented – in the modern age, at least. An entire war has daringly been subverted, allegiances have been shifted, and an increasingly dangerous cloak-and-dagger mentality has taken hold. All this so that the US can make the world safe, through a moral crusade that will conveniently win it strategic economic and military positioning, a crusade carried out at the expense of its "allies." Stranger things have happened – but not since 1204.

Chris Deliso

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