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Back in 2008, Christopher Borgen, a professor at St. John’s University School of Law, examined the various claims as to whether the Balkan episode would establish a legal precedent in, say, South Ossetia. Perhaps echoing the protestations of the Clinton and Bush era, he concluded that “as a matter of law, one is not a precedent for the other. However, in the end we need to keep in mind that sometimes the most effective law in politically charged situations may be the law of unintended consequences.”

It is sometimes possible to avoid such consequences by asking and seriously seeking answers to Adm. Yamamoto’s question.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.