SECTION 3 Deadly Stereotypes
17. INSIDE: An Artificial War
Miloš Vasić was the editor of Vreme (Time), an independent weekly in Belgrade. In a New Yorker piece, he wrote:
It’s an artificial war, produced by TV. All it took was a few years of fierce, reckless, chauvinistic, intolerant, expansionist, war-mongering propaganda to create enough hate to start the fighting among people who had lived together peacefully.
Imagine a United States with every TV station everywhere taking exactly the same editorial line—a line dictated by [former Ku Klux Klan leader] David Duke. You, too, would have war in five years…. First you create fear, then distrust, then panic. Then all you have to do is come every night and distribute submachine guns in every village and you are ready.1
Vreme’s readers were not backward people, ready to believe the first propaganda thrown their way. Throughout Yugoslavia, including Bosnia, there were plenty of well-educated, urbane observers who could have told outside policymakers, had they been asked, that the war hysteria was the result of a carefully planned disinformation campaign.
Instead, for most Bosnians, hearing Milošević’s theme being picked up and repeated by outsiders was infuriating. They knew the argument of inevitable divisions was patently wrong—an artificial construct promoted either by power-hungry nationalists or by foreigners who didn’t know that they didn’t know what they were talking about. The Bosnians marveled at onlookers’ acceptance of Tuđman’s and Milošević’s propaganda and his solution: a population shuffle, with Bosnian Serbs joining an expanded Serbia, Bosnian Croats joining an expanded Croatia, and Bosniaks emigrating to Turkey or elsewhere.
Struggling to be heard above the din of war, some Sarajevo media tried to expose that wrongheadedness. Often their despair was couched in a sardonic tone: “It’s important to preserve the smile, even an idiotic one,” wrote Zlatko Diždarević. The editor of the lone surviving independent daily, Oslobodjenje (Liberation), he added a prescient warning that even if Karadžić were to pull his forces back until the world’s attention turned away, “soon the idea of a division of Bosnia and Sarajevo as the only solution will come back in through the front door, [where] various war criminals will be sitting.”2
To help the wider world recognize Sarajevans’ anguish, the Bosnian editor begged his international colleagues to go outside of the Holiday Inn where they were holed up, and spend time with regular people. Fortunately, some did, like the Boston Globe’s Elizabeth Neuffer, who listened to one Bosnian family after another describe their lives before the war: “You could all but hear camera shutters clicking, preserving Bosnia… in someone’s mind’s eye. Click. See, we all got along, Muslim, Croat, and Serb. Click. Our town had a mosque, but it also had an Orthodox cathedral…. Click.… Click.… We were communists, but we experimented with capitalism…. Here are the photos of us all hosting international tourists at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Click.”3
These journalists often risked death to inform the world. Covering atrocities took its toll. According to one, “we distanced ourselves psychologically from the action like people about to leave friends and family, to preserve our emotional equilibrium and our sense of integrity…. [W]e belonged neither in Bosnia nor in policy-making circles. By definition we were eavesdroppers and voyeurs.”4
The task was especially difficult for American reporters. They knew their country was the best equipped (literally) to stop the war, yet most of their readers knew nothing and cared less about Yugoslavia. And even more were clueless about why there were “Serbs” living outside Serbia, and why “Croats” didn’t mean just the people in Croatia.
18. OUTSIDE: Clashes
The Harvard professor Samuel Huntington seemed preoccupied with dividing lines. When he came to Vienna, the intellectual elite packed a gilded auditorium to hear the author discuss his article in Foreign Affairs,5 precursor to his influential book, The Clash of Civilizations.6 I greeted the professor warmly. He seemed pleased to have the American ambassador on stage as a respondent to his lecture.
Huntington’s thesis was that the fundamental conflict of our time would be between not ideologies but cultures. Pointing to the end of the cold war that pitted communism against “the free world,” the professor asserted that in the absence of political and economic ideologies with which to identify, people increasingly would turn to culture as a more permanent self-definition. Such “civilization-consciousness” would increase as modernization drew groups into closer contact with each other. Ultimately, ancient animosities, real or apocryphal, would be rekindled.
The professor’s recommendation to the West was to stay removed from states whose cultures were “incompatible” with our own. Trying to impose Western values on a non-Western state was a prescription for resentment. Better to stay detached. Huntington saw inevitable fault lines dividing the world, and one of those fault lines ran straight through the Balkans. For these reasons, he counseled against trying to preserve multicultural states.
Professor Huntington’s thesis was well argued, but dangerous. I responded, when my turn came to speak, that we have choices in the lenses through which we view experience. In the same settings described by Huntington, we find rich examples of those who cross cultural lines. Whether through political task forces, academic study groups, or arts festivals, many if not most societies revel in their blend of traditions. To ignore collaboration among diverse cultures and look instead at the world through the lens of division becomes self-fulfilling. I ended my comments by noting that Huntington’s argument, extended into the political realm, would provide justification for ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.
The professor had the last word at the podium, where he defended his fault line argument with vehemence. We parted company in the hallway behind the auditorium. He seemed not to hear my goodbye.
I later learned that Croatia’s nationalist president, Franjo Tuđman, cited Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations as justification for his attempt to seize half of Bosnia to create Greater Croatia. According to his ambassador to the United States, the strongman frequently mentioned to his political colleagues that it was his favorite book.
19. INSIDE: Crossing the Fault Line
From Bosnians, I heard scores of stories that contradicted Samuel Huntington’s assertion, like the one told to me by a thin, middle-aged woman named Nafija. Her story was intertwined with that of Goražde, a town on the Drina River, nestled in a forested mountain area about sixty miles southeast of Sarajevo.
With its chemical manufacturing and machine production, Goražde’s industry was more robust than that of the rest of the country. But driving to Nafija’s battered town, I noticed that the surrounding landscape itself told an incoherent tale: a beautiful cliff overhanging a bombed-out lodge… spreading trees nearly hiding the charred ruin of a home… a brook running along the road—one of six springs that supplied water for the encircled town.
Starting in the sixteenth century, Goražde had been a significant trading center of the Ottoman Empire; four hundred years later, it was still at a crossroad. Of the town’s prewar population of thirty-seven thousand, 30 percent was Serb, but once the war started, an ominous population shift took place. As Serb troops overran more and more of eastern Bosnia, non-Serbs fled their homes in the countryside, pouring into the UN safe havens of Srebrenica, Žepa, and Goražde. With the largely Bosniak influx, the town’s population swelled to fifty thousand. Meanwhile, most Serb residents had obeyed orders from nationalists, abandoning their homes so that a wholesale massacre of the remaining inhabitants and refugees could be carried out.
Although the UN had guaranteed the safety of Goražde, and the British had warned that aggression would be met with “a substantial and decisive response,”7 military support didn’t follow the lofty words. France seemed willing to step in, but only with backup from US Apache helicopters, and Washington was flatly unwilling to provide the expensive aircraft.
“There were only four UNPROFOR personnel, and they stayed in the basements,” said one refugee wryly.8 Without opposition, the Serb army grew bold, continually shelling tens of thousands of civilians in the town. But instead of capitulating, Nafija’s community resisted. Goražde was the only one of the three safe havens not to fall, ultimately, to the Serbs.
Encircled, Goražde became synonymous with human perseverance and ingenuity. Locals, left without electricity, constructed makeshift electric generators in the river. Wicks were fashioned from rags soaked in recycled motor oil. When humanitarian relief was cut off, some citizens traversed snowy mountain passes to get supplies. Still, provisions became alarmingly scarce, and the market adjusted accordingly. One ox, or about seventy dollars, could buy a box of cigarettes. Later, three hundred dollars would buy a pound of tobacco, which some enterprising citizens had planted. At thirty dollars a quart, cooking oil was prohibitively costly. Eventually, the town came to rely on supplies intermittently dropped by parachute.
Surgeons from around Bosnia arrived a year into the war. Shortly afterward, the siege was complete and they found themselves unable to leave. Day and night, they labored to save lives without medicines or supplies. “Those doctors did for this town what even God didn’t do,” a refugee remarked.9
The townspeople responded to the destruction with inventiveness and stubborn love. Nafija told me how she’d been walking down the sidewalk, hand in hand with her nine-year-old daughter, when a Serb shell hit a bank nearby. A piece of shrapnel penetrated the girl’s stomach. An hour later she was dead.
The next day, a Serb woman came to Nafija looking for assistance. She was cold, and Nafija helped her locate firewood. Not long after, the Serb woman learned that her benefactor’s daughter had been killed shortly before their appointment. She searched for days to find the mother who had put aside her grief to reach across Huntington’s “fault lines” and come to another woman’s aid.
“Why did you help me?” the Serb asked when she found Nafija.
“Because you’re a human being who needed help,” Nafija answered simply. Finding no words, the Serb woman walked out of the room.
“I don’t hate the people who killed my daughter. They will answer to God,” Nafija told me. “But when I helped that Serb woman”—she paused, and tears spilled down her cheeks—“I’ve never felt so good.”
20. OUTSIDE: “The Truth about Goražde”
Even the most irrefutable testimony could be garbled as it echoed in the halls of power thousands of miles away. Despite ongoing Serb hostilities against Goražde, on 4 May 1994, the Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare of the House Republican Research Committee delivered a devastatingly anti-Muslim report to the US Congress:
While Bosnian Serb aggressiveness has undoubtedly played a large part in the Goražde tragedy, what is less known is the role played by the Bosnian government and military in instigating the conflict and in efforts to draw the West, particularly the United States, into the war generally….
At the outset the advantage went to the Bosnians who, backed by “Afghan”—mainly Arab—volunteers, were able to drive out the Christian population in what was described as an act of “ethnic-cleansing.”… By exploiting UN relief efforts into the town, the Bosnian Muslims were able to infiltrate Goražde, taking advantage of the fact that the Serbs were compelled to withdraw in order to make way for humanitarian operations….
With Goražde now fully under attack, the Bosnian Government began an extensive propaganda campaign aimed at the West and at highlighting the plight of the town’s civilian population…. The United States’ Ambassador to the United Nations and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs arrived in Sarajevo to declare their sympathy for the Muslim population…. From this point on the essence of Bosnia strategy became one of drawing down Serb military actions against Goražde in order to elicit western sympathy.10
On a crumbling Goražde sidewalk, in rain boots and traditional bloomers, a quartet of war-weary but resilient women met me—a frieze of endurance. Their enclave was one of only three “safe havens” in Bosnia not to fall to Serbs.
Such reports, crassly accusing victims of inviting aggression toward their own people for the sake of sympathy, contributed to the policy paralysis that allowed the war to go on and on. Words like “Afghan” were sprinkled around, seemingly to strike fear in the hearts of policymakers and further reduce the impetus for intervention.
That was the confused and highly charged atmosphere in Washington as I sat in Assistant Secretary Holbrooke’s office, trying to think how I could be more effective in advocating an end to the war. Would another call to the White House make a difference? More encouragement to the press? Should our embassy’s political officer be pressuring the Austrians, sending a démarche—a demand—for collective action to his counterpart in the foreign ministry?
As Holbrooke and I talked, Bob Frasure, his frustrated deputy, entered the room. Ambassador Frasure wryly described yet another White House “principals’ meeting,” where, he said, yet another report of atrocities had elicited from our halls of power yet another soft “démarche-mallow.”
21. INSIDE: Loyal
Despite the mushy thinking that clogged the channels of international action, a crystal clear message was sent from Sarajevo by a group of Bosnian Serbs who refused to take up weapons under General Ratko Mladić, head of the Bosnian Serb Army. These “loyal Serbs” formed an association supporting a unified Bosnia, held conventions, and published proclamations imploring outsiders to confront the aggression threatening their homeland.
At an institutional level, the Bosnian government had taken care to maintain the diverse leadership typical of the prewar republic. Although ethnic divisions would become more pronounced as a result of the war, during and immediately after the war, I frequently met Serbs who were integrated into the Bosnian power structure.
One such man took on heroic stature to the besieged Sarajevans. Jovan Divjak, a general in the Yugoslav People’s Army stationed in the capital, remained there to fight on the side of the Bosnian army. Although reviled by some Serbs as a traitor, he provided weapons and command leadership to the resistance; personally comforted the bereaved; and gave the international media a Serbian voice supporting multiethnic ideals. Word was that he even dug trenches.
Gray-haired, around sixty, with warm eyes and an embracing voice, Divjak welcomed me into his office after the war to describe how he had thrown in his lot with the city. He commented on the irony of how, surrounded by snipers and tanks, he had called out orders to Bosniak soldiers in his heavy Serb accent.
The general was born in 1937 in Serbia, where he and his divorced mother lived on the edge of poverty. As a boy, he won the hearts of waitresses, who hid pieces of meat in piles of vegetables on his plate so the cashier wouldn’t charge him for the more expensive food.
Young Jovan developed a lifelong appreciation for education. When his mother couldn’t afford to send him to college, he entered the military academy in Belgrade; although he lacked money to buy books, he could use the libraries. On top of academics, he excelled in sports and even served as secretary of the academy’s League of Communists.
As one of the twelve best students in the academy, Divjak joined Tito’s elite guards and went through officer training in the Yugoslav People’s Army. He was sent to Paris to study French, where the fallout from a love affair led to his being punished with an assignment to the boondocks—Sarajevo. There he remained for eighteen years, teaching teenage cadets. Divjak was proud of the army, in which, he insists, there was no room for nationalism.Jovan Divjak was serving as commander of territorial defense when the war started. (Significantly, he calls it “the aggression,” rather than “civil war.”) I asked why someone from Serbia would stay in Sarajevo during the siege. Those who left weren’t loyal to Bosnia, the military man maintained. Those who stayed were standing up for the ideal of a state that would protect people of all cultures and faiths.
President Izetbegović had taken the “loyal Serb” to Washington in September 1992 to demonstrate the diversity of the Bosnian military. Divjak said he’d felt like a “Serb bear” on display at think tanks such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Washington’s disconnection from the Balkan people was clear. To his amazement, when the commander showed foreign policy experts maps and gave reports of how Bosnians and Croats were cooperating, the policymakers showed him their own maps and insisted that the situation on the ground was quite different from what he knew firsthand.
Divjak was determined to be fair during the war, offering reproaches to all sides. In 1993 he wrote to Izetbegović, complaining about Bosnian paramilitary thugs who were throwing Croats and Serbs out of their homes. Nor did he withhold his criticism of the president for being sucked into war. Divjak disagreed with those who blamed Izetbegović for not building up a robust military defense at the first signs of conflict. Better years of enslavement than to lose 250,000 lives, he insisted. But in May 1995, he faulted Izetbegović for ordering an attempt to break the siege of Sarajevo. At that time, the Serbs had eighty to one hundred tanks and armed vehicles and one thousand artillery pieces, and the Bosnians had none. Divjak could only watch, frustrated and distraught, as four hundred lives were wasted in that failed effort.
On 2 June 1995, the general condemned Serb aggression in an interview with a Bosnian news reporter. He talked about Vojislav Šešelj, one of Serbia’s most extreme nationalist political leaders, who had hijacked the airwaves. “By his own admission over Pale television,” Divjak told the reporter, “Šešelj killed a Sarajevo citizen. It couldn’t be more ironic that the victim was a Sarajevo Serb, who throughout the war worked in the city’s main bakery for the common good. Meanwhile, the guy’s two sons were in the Serb militias…. Just another example of the absurdity of the bloody Bosnian conflict.”
More than just conveying his contempt for the ruthlessness of the Serb aggression, the interview put forward his analysis of the siege. “Sarajevo is always a target because our capital is a model for the solution of the whole problem of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he said. “The fate of the state depends on whether Sarajevo remains a multicultural city. Serbian extremists are aware of this, which is why their anger is so directly aimed at the city and its inhabitants.”
In addition to being a fervent champion of progressive ideals, the general was a handsome romantic. He gathered roses from the front lines to bring a smile to the faces of women, young and old, who could not escape the city.
Although his heart was gentle, Divjak seemed to thrive on danger. In July 1993, he took American news broadcaster Dan Rather to the front lines, where two days earlier a Bosnian commander had been killed. After diving for cover during a live broadcast, Rather received a call that his insurance would be canceled if he stayed out with the general.
Life in the commander’s own home was difficult: his wife was hospitalized for more than a year with clinical depression. Nonetheless, he recounted how he helped people whenever he could. When a shell killed three children, a soldier suggested that the general visit the bereaved family; being a Serb, he hesitated. Ultimately, he decided to go, and when he found the grieving family and friends in a cellar, the mother exclaimed, “Look! Our commander came.” Sobbing, she told him how she’d held the children’s dismembered bodies against her chest, brains slipping between her fingers. Two years later, he urged her and her husband to have another child, even though she was forty-four. Little Muhammed was born just after the war ended. The general showed me the boy’s picture, hanging on his office wall.
Divjak took pride in his role as a go-between. He kept a record of the thousands he helped, such as the children for whom he found educational scholarships. Interestingly, he claimed to have no religious grounding. In fact, the general told me, instead of believing in a higher being, he was more comfortable with the notion that a magnetic field or other physical elements brought order to the universe.
That thought led to another—a visit by a woman in her forties, a hospital worker with four children, who said she’d been praying night and day for her family. She’d sent three of them to Slovenia when the war started, keeping only the youngest with her in Sarajevo. When she told him that her husband had been killed, Divjak let her use a satellite phone to call her children outside Bosnia. “Daddy’s in the field, so he can’t talk with you,” she explained.
“Why don’t you tell them he’s dead?” the general prodded.
“I want to tell them face to face. Please help me go see them for a month,” she begged.
Divjak used his connections with President Izetbegović to get her permission to leave with a state delegation six months later. He admitted that when she came to see him before departing, he grew impatient with her. “You see, ma’am, your god didn’t help you,” he said brusquely. She grew pale and then blushed.
“No, sir,” she said, “God chose you to help me.”11
22. OUTSI DE: Pentagon Sympathies
Some people believed the Yugoslav conflict was preordained. When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili visited my office in Vienna, I pushed for American action to stop the war. “That’s the Balkans,” he replied. “They’ll have to find their own solution.”
“But what about NATO?” I insisted, remembering US Ambassador Robert Hunter’s concern that “NATO may die on the hillsides surrounding Sarajevo,” discredited for failing to respond to the crisis.
“Shali” was plain-spoken: “NATO is a blob that serves a function just by being there. It doesn’t need to act.” It seemed that he shared a reluctance to engage in military action. Rumor had it that he believed Communist military historians’ inflated claims that Tito’s partisans had held down twelve German divisions during World War II. (More sober estimates are that only two reservist divisions were held down; it was on the basis of exaggerated assertions that the general calculated it would take one hundred thousand troops to overpower the Serbs.)
Thus for commanders, sending in American troops seemed like an enormously risky proposition. Military leaders would have to be convinced, beyond a doubt, that national interest required our involvement. Otherwise, they saw their job as keeping their forces out of entanglements. If the conflict went awry, political backing for US involvement would vanish, they feared. In their minds, intervention was being pushed primarily by overly enthusiastic members of Congress and State Department operatives.
I was clearly in the latter group, which frequently put me at odds with military leaders for whom I otherwise had great respect. In two trips to Stuttgart, Germany, I received briefings from the four-star general in day-to-day command of the American armed services in Europe (EUCOM). Chuck Boyd was a thoughtful, articulate, and affable fellow, who had spent 2,488 days in North Vietnam as a prisoner of war. He was a true hero.
During one briefing, I sat with other ambassadors at large tables arranged in an open square. Several generals took turns standing before us. They reported on EUCOM’S broad mission—across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa—then gave details regarding specific hot spots. For most of the briefing, I was a compliant student, absorbing terms, concepts, and details of operations I knew only from newspapers. But when the generals turned to the Balkans, I understood the subject at least as well as they did. That is when the trouble began.
When the generals repeatedly described Bosnian leaders as “the Muslims,” I protested, noting that the five-person presidency included ethnic Serbs and people from mixed marriages. In addition, I asked, why should Bosniaks be described in terms of religion when Serbs and Croats were not? I further reminded General Boyd that the Bosniaks had pledged to protect their multiethnic society, in contrast to the aggressors, who were routing non-Serbs from their homes in the name of “Greater Serbia.” The other generals were clearly embarrassed that I was contradicting their commander.
Soon, an intelligence officer stood to describe the “Bosnian Muslim extremists”—a term that was misguided if the goal was insight, but right on the mark if the goal was nonintervention. I wrote a note to my defense attaché from Vienna, sitting on my left: “They’re so wrong.” The colonel wrote back: “Tell them.” Once more, I spoke up, asking if anyone in the room had ever met the extremists they were describing. No one had. “Well, I have. And there’s nothing extreme about them,” I countered.
At the heart of the question of extremism was the reputation of President Izetbegović, whom I knew as a contemplative attorney approaching the end of his career. Izetbegović had been jailed by Tito’s Communist authorities in the 1940s for belonging to the Young Muslims, who sought the right to religious expression and extolled the Islamic way of life in a unified Muslim community. Izetbegović was in jail from 1983 to 1988.
In fact, Orthodox and Catholic thinkers had also been incarcerated. Some believed Izetbegović’s 1983 trial was an attempt by the Communists to be evenhanded in their religious oppression, for the notion that Izetbegović’s Islamic Declaration—his 1970 book on the modernization of Islamic politics—was extremist required an extreme bias. The offending document never mentioned Bosnia, much less advocated the idea of Bosnia as an Islamic state, as the prosecution claimed.
At the beginning of the Bosnian war, the Belgrade Ministry for Foreign Affairs translated the treatise into English and distributed it to Western governments as proof that Izetbegović was an Islamic fundamentalist. However, careful readers noticed that the essential ideas of the declaration, which was not widely read in the Balkans, were that nationalism is divisive and Communism is inadequate. Instead, the author pointed to Islamic government as the most suitable for a society in which the majority is “practicing Muslims.” But, he noted, few of Bosnia’s Muslims were “practicing” during the secular Tito era in which he wrote. Thus Izetbegović did not advocate an Islamic government for Bosnia. He actually warned that in societies with a non-Muslim majority, like Bosnia, “the Islamic order [would be] reduced to mere power and [could] turn into tyranny.”12
In other writings, Izetbegović described Christianity as a “near-union of supreme religion and supreme ethics.”13 He also extolled Anglo-Saxon philosophy and culture, and the social-democratic tradition—hardly the rantings of an Islamic extremist.
Granted, the future president proposed the revival of Islamic tradition in Bosnia, despite the discouragement of religion under Communism. But, he allowed, either Western democracy or an Islamic state with religious tolerance could be used to counter the excesses of modernity.
At the EUCOM briefing, such nuance did not prevail. Privately, General Boyd warned me I had been duped by “Muslim propaganda.” “There are no good guys in this war,” he cautioned.
“But I’ve had these people in my home,” I insisted. “We’ve had dinner together many times. I know them.”
“Well, you should have had more Serbs for dinner,” he replied.
23. INSIDE: Family Friends
My family loved dinnertime with the Ganićs. We had a lot of similarities—our financial security, the age of our children, and our moderate religious faith (although the two fathers were essentially atheists).
Since the war started, Emina and her brother, Emir, had rarely seen their father: Ejup Ganić, a member of the federal presidency, had a price on his head. As refugees in Vienna, they were living incognito, using Fahrija’s maiden name. She even warned her children not to speak Serbo-Croatian when they were in public, such as on a playground or waiting for a bus. Although a family of means back in the Balkans, they were now cloistered in a tiny apartment.
Dr. Ganić had spent nine years studying and teaching mechanical engineering in the United States, at MIT and in Chicago. I met him in the spring of 1994, when he managed to leave Sarajevo. When our paths crossed near a crowded airport baggage claim, my embassy political officer whispered, “That’s Ganić.” Weary as he must have been, he had the stride and comportment of a major player, someone who was helping his fledgling country maneuver through a treacherous time. Introducing myself, I asked casually where he would be staying. In perfect and polite English, he dodged the question.
Months later, I was visiting Ganić in the intensive care unit of a Viennese hospital. He’d been flown in after a serious automobile accident in central Bosnia. He would require multiple surgeries, with steel plates to repair a badly broken body.
Armed guards were just outside the door of his room. Ganić lay on the bed, his long, broad frame seeming remarkably delicate under the thin sheet. His skin was a yellow hue, and he was hooked up to needles and tubes; to lighten the moment, I joked that he looked like Frankenstein, with stitches running like railroad tracks across his arm.
Fahrija, Ejup, and young Emir Ganić, chatting with Charles. If they were dangerous extremists, we sure missed it.
The hospital staff, having discovered that they were treating an unidentified Balkan political figure, petitioned the chief administrator to have him removed. They were concerned that they might be harboring a war criminal, or that the hospital might become a target of violence. I interceded with the physician in charge and won a few days’ reprieve.
Keeping constant watch at his side was a worried Fahrija. She was a medical doctor herself, trained in dermatology at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Given the stress on the family, I invited the Ganić children to meet ours at the embassy residence. Fahrija accepted gratefully, since she was spending days and nights at the hospital—not a happy environment for eleven-year-old Emir or sixteen-year-old Emina.
A couple of days later, sweet Emir walked through the door with a bouquet of flowers for my daughter, Lillian. Then he joined our Teddy, transfixed before a SimCity computer game. Communication was no problem, since the Ganić children, raised in America, were more comfortable in English than any other language. But I knew from Fahrija that the refugee experience had taken its toll. Emir was constantly anxious, unable to sleep alone, and afraid of going anywhere on his own.
Emina, in contrast, was spirited and opinionated—and an intellectual match for any parent. I thought to myself how, in her tight black skirt, she was far more worldly than my daughter. As we got to know each other, she talked about crushes, shoes, and theater. But inside, she later confessed to me, she had the same insecurities and need to belong of any teenager. On the other hand, coming from a war zone with a father still at the heart of the conflict, she had a sense of specialness, even selfimportance: “My God, our life is so much more complicated, and therefore more valuable,” was how she described her adolescent feelings.
We continued to enjoy having Fahrija, Emir, and Emina around our dinner table. We were like family.
24. OUTSIDE: Extremists
Vice President Ejup Ganić spent months recovering from his accident. When his condition stabilized, he was moved to a military hospital on an army base with tight Austrian security. He must have known I was passing our conversations on to the State Department and White House. Assistant Secretary Holbrooke, in turn, sent me messages to convey regarding the diplomatic effort he was leading to stop the war. I was to reassure Ganić that America was resolute that eastern enclaves not be bargained away to the Serbs but stay in Bosniak hands.
While we from the State Department were working with Ganić, the Pentagon and CIA continued to dwell on the perceived threat of Muslim extremism. Many military and intelligence officers were convinced that the Bosnian army, which we wanted to strengthen, had been infiltrated by Mujahideen—mostly Arab fighters trained in states like Pakistan or Afghanistan to wage “holy war.”
From his hospital bed, Ganić watched news broadcasts showing Iranian and Sudanese street mobs burning American flags to protest US inaction to stop the genocide of their fellow Muslims. This worried the politician, who was concerned about a negative impact on his cause. First, he said, outside demonstrations distracted from the Bosnian message of tolerance. Second, the demonstrations drew a link between a modern European country and conservative Islamic states. “If my daughter were imprisoned the rest of her life behind a veil, [he pointed to his forehead] I wouldn’t stay in that country,” he said. Despite my reports to Washington noting these conversations and the misunderstandings in the EUCOM briefing, I continued to hear US intelligence sources describe Ganić as a “Muslim extremist.”Ironically, it was the absence of help from the West that forced the Bosnian government to accept and even seek out aid from Iran.14 Compelled to establish ties with anyone who would help, Bosnian officials made trips to Islamic states—trips subsequently cited as evidence that they were extremists. But the turn to the East was necessary since, in 1991, the UN arms embargo (Security Council Resolution 713) had forbidden aid to the military in the former Yugoslavia. Granted, that move was an attempt to reduce violence and increase security in the region. But because Serbia had already appropriated weapons and other resources from the heavily armed Yugoslav National Army and Territorial Defense Forces, the resolution froze the imbalance of power, giving the Serbs overwhelming advantage.
The Clinton administration therefore was caught in a policy tangle over arms aid to the Bosnians. The US public tended to support isolationism; and even among those inclined to intervene in the Balkans, there was a dispute about whether we could act alone or only as part of a multilateral effort. Clinton’s sympathies were with the Bosnians, and he was not an isolationist. Still, the president was reluctant to break the UN embargo unilaterally, because he needed UN backing on other issues, such as sanctions against Iraq.
Congress added to the tangle as many representatives advocated unilateral action. This tug was led by conservative Republicans who loathed the UN, particularly Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who called Clinton weak for being constrained by the embargo. Yet those same representatives were incensed when the administration, as a compromising action, decided not to enforce the embargo, allowing both Croat and Bosniak forces to arm themselves through other countries’ contributions. In 1994, US Ambassador Peter Galbraith tacitly conveyed to the Croatian government that we would look the other way as the Croats secretly acquired weapons. It was a passive means of supporting the arms flow, but not as damaging to the UN as open opposition to the embargo.
Despite being on record as supporting the lifting of the arms embargo, Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convened to investigate Ambassador Galbraith and Assistant Secretary Holbrooke. Although Galbraith had been working in a complicated and highly stressful diplomatic setting, he was repaid by being raked over the congressional coals. It seemed there were clean guns, supplied by the US, and dirty guns, supplied by Islamic states.
All this Vice President Ganić understood. In our private conversations in 1995, he called the Islamic warriors who had entered the conflict “the kiss of death.” “We know what to do with them,” he assured me. “There are not so many. Maybe fifty or so. We can just round them all up and shoot them.” I chose not to encourage him, even though the issue of Arabs among the Bosnian forces had by that time risen right to the top: I was asked about it in three separate conversations, with NATO Supreme Allied Commander George Joulwan, US Secretary of Defense William Perry, and President Clinton.
Eventually, it became clear that their concern was well founded. Islamic extremists had gained a foothold. They were not only supplying arms but also fighting alongside the poorly prepared Bosnians. Moreover, I was informed that they planned to assassinate a certain American working in Bosnia. The State Department strongly advised him to leave the region, but Ganić told me he depended on the man’s expertise and vowed he would protect him with Bosnian troops. The American also insisted on continuing his work.
I decided to talk directly to the man to convince him the danger was real and too great for him to stay. After several tries, our Vienna office reached him by phone. The American said he would not leave the country unless I personally requested it.
“Do you have children?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
“How old?” I continued. Both were teenagers.
“Well, at least they’re launched,” I said, matter-of-factly. I did not suggest that he abandon his Bosnian work. At my next visit to the CIA, however, I examined the intelligence on the plot. I was more than convinced. When I returned to Vienna, I told the man not to stay in Bosnia unless he was sure that he would not crack under torture and was willing to lose his life. He left.
When I raised these matters with President Izetbegović during one-on-one meetings in Vienna and Sarajevo, he insisted that the brigade of 175 imported Muslim fighters had been disbanded and had turned in their arms. But, he said, some might have married Bosnian women and therefore could stay in the country… some might have been kidnapped as they tried to leave, so he could not find them… his troops might have refused to drive them out… besides, many of them were “dissidents” not welcome back in their home countries… furthermore, there were only seventeen Iranians in Bosnia plus their ambassador, who anyway had offered to send home the “educators and technical advisors,” keeping only embassy personnel….
The stakes were too high for such obfuscation. I had just learned of a shocking development in our investigation into the assassination plot: one of Izetbegović’s chief political aides was implicated. When I informed the president, he asserted that no one in his government had been part of any plan to assassinate an American. But I had held in my hands evidence to the contrary. He wanted to see the proof. Considering what could be deciphered from the documents regarding our intelligence operation, I decided not to respond to his request.
I had one more meeting with Izetbegović in the home of Austria’s President Thomas Klestil. I sat across the dinner table from Vienna’s mayor, Helmut Zilk, who was maneuvering through the meal without two of his fingers—having nearly been killed by a letter bomb from adomestic terrorist infuriated by the mayor’s support for Bosnian refugees. After the dinner, in a private talk with Izetbegović, I segued from Zilk’s account of his tragedy: “You must intervene to keep Mujahideen out of Bosnia.”
The president chose his words carefully. “Our government has the whole situation in control,” he replied, staring into my eyes.
“Frankly, Mr. President,” I countered, with dueling intensity, “I trust you’re not in control, because we know what’s going on.” Indeed, NATO troops soon stumbled across what they described as an Iranian terrorist training camp tucked away in a hunting lodge and containing weapons, including children’s toys wired to explode.15 Their report touched off a firestorm in Washington.
Similarly, Republican Representative Benjamin Gilman would later assail President Clinton, saying that Iranians “even have a cultural center in Sarajevo.”16 (Of course, Republicans had voted to slash funding for American cultural programs abroad.) Several months later, walking down a street in Sarajevo, I came across a small storefront. The new Iranian center in Sarajevo was no grand building, with seductive Ottoman architectural intricacies and cavernous dens into which victims might be drawn. It was instead a small, nondescript space with three shelves of Korans—and no readers. It appeared that the congressman had wasted his ire.
Ultimately, we were left wondering whether our political and intelligence officers were underreporting or overreporting fundamentalist dangers. From our extensive antiterrorism work in Vienna, I was familiar with methods that extremists used to infiltrate a community and was thus alarmed by stories I was hearing: families offered stipends if fathers wore a beard; small-town children given candy, but only if their mothers covered their heads. I also started to count headscarves on the streets of Sarajevo. True, the numbers were increasing. But perhaps some were being worn by war-displaced farm wives who needed to keep hair off sweaty foreheads—the same villagers who were now refugees that purportedly made up 30 percent of the capital’s population.
A perverse circle, indeed, if US nonintervention resulted in streets filled with women wearing headscarves, who were then used as evidence of extremism, which substantiated the unworthiness of the Bosniak cause, and became reason for nonintervention.