Like a political cult’s fantasy park, a 10-foot statue of a waving Bill Clinton leers over Bill Clinton Boulevard not far from the Hillary clothing boutique. A metal bust of President Clinton’s former secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, lurks in the park nearby. Out of town, near an American military base, a 20-mile stretch of road is named after Joe Biden’s late son. A congressman from the Bronx, Eliot Engel, not only got his own boulevard but earned his face on a postage stamp.
It sounds like a freak show for The Swamp, and it’s real. All made possible with $2 billion of the American taxpayers’ money. Add an extra big bill for American troops there — not to protect the place from foreign invaders or to secure American vital interests — but to keep the locals from killing one another. The freak show is called Kosovo.
Kosovo is a never-ending mess. Its own people, a mishmash of irreconcilable cultures, historically can’t get along without some form of dictator or military occupation. Each side ethnically “cleanses” itself of the other in a civil war horror between ethnic Albanian Muslims and ethnic Serbian Christians. The Albanian majority forced out most of the Christians — hardly anyone in the world cared — and declared independence from Serbia.
The breakaway landlocked province has zero strategic value to the United States. Less than half the area of Vermont, Kosovo is home to a population almost the size of the Bronx. It’s a babel of five official languages with two alphabets. Eighty percent of its young people don’t work. Kosovo’s most famous exports are jihadists.
Just over two decades ago, Kosovo’s bloody civil war against the Christians and the Christian Serbs’ tough response prompted Congressman Engel to persuade Ms. Albright and Mr. Clinton to use American force to defeat the Christian side. Mr. Clinton used NATO as a fig leaf to run a bombing campaign affectionately called “Madeleine’s War” supposedly to stop the bloodshed.
The humanitarian bombing brought autonomy to Kosovo, but the bombs weren’t enough: An Islamist insurgency, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), ran guerrilla operations on the ground to shape the new rebel government. Many U.S. officials at the time considered the KLA as an Islamist terrorist group, but Mr. Engel wasn’t perturbed. He used his seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee to sponsor legislation to fund the KLA. That arguably helped earn Mr. Engel his picture on a Kosovo postage stamp.
After the war, the locals proved once again that they couldn’t get along and needed an armed babysitter. Mr. Clinton brought in American troops with European allies flying the NATO banner, and absurdly invited Russian troops to “help.” The awkward hybrid nearly resulted in a NATO military confrontation with Russia.
With the United States and allied ground forces providing militarized child care, a “peace process” dragged on for years, during which the secessionist province broke from Serbia in 2008 and declared independence thanks to U.S. troops, who ensured that the peace process would continue stalling endlessly.
Seeing that Russia had taken advantage and renewed its centuries-old ties with Serbia, with the Chinese in pursuit for a European foothold, the Trump administration has been trying to pull the United States out of the Kosovo mess and woo Serbia westward. Serbia, though small, remains a hub linking southeastern and central Europe, and a partial land bridge from central Europe away from the Russian- and Turkish-dominated Black Sea, toward the Mediterranean.
But Kosovo-backers want nothing of it. Recently in pandemic-shuttered Washington, scripted talking-point recyclers are bleating for attention to save the Clintonian status quo. One of them took a break from the lockdown to call Kosovo “the most pro-American country in Europe.” Another hailed the microstate as “the most pro-US country on the globe.”
That might be true as long as the stupid Americans continue to pump in cash and provide military protection from the hated Christians. But it doesn’t quite reconcile with Kosovo’s status as the West’s biggest per-capita recruitment ground for jihadist terrorists.
Now, longtime partisans of the Clinton machine are lamenting that “America’s Kosovo strategy is melting down.”
It’s about time.
• J. Michael Waller is senior analyst for strategy at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter @JMichaelWaller.