To deter extremists in Syria, Obama must heed lessons of Kosovo intervention
As President Obama watches Islamic extremists gain power in the chaos of the Syrian uprising against the Bashar al-Assad regime, he should consider the precedent of the US intervention in Kosovo – where extremists have been kept at bay and democracy is growing.
New Haven, Conn.
See if you can identify this situation.Skip to next paragraph
Gallery Monitor Political Cartoons
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Thousands of civilians have died within the last year. Civil strife has turned into ethnic conflict and now civil war. And the international community is increasingly worried. The United States is boosting its military presence in the region, while at the same time providing the rebels with training and logistical support. “We want to develop a good relationship with them,” says the US State Department spokesman referring to the anti-government forces. Meanwhile, Russia vehemently warns the West not to intervene.
This may sound like a description of the 2011-2012 Syrian uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Actually, this was the scene of events leading up to the US military intervention in Kosovo in March of 1999. But it could just as easily depict the conflict in Syria today.
The Obama administration recently sent troops and is deploying Patriot defense to Turkey, which lies on Syria’s northern border. And it has provided logistical support and official recognition to the Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, the death toll from the conflict is mounting. The United Nations just raised its estimate: More than 60,000 Syrians have been killed so far, as many as five times the number of deaths in Kosovo the year of the US military intervention. Just as with Kosovo, Russia is warning against any form of western intervention.
And while President Obama weighs the options of intervening in Syria, as he is reportedly in the process of doing, he should consider these similarities. In doing so, he will find another reason to ramp up US support for the Syrian opposition, one that is not commonly associated with the Kosovo War: combating extremism.
I recently sat down with Petrit Selimi, the No. 2 official in Kosovo’s Department of Foreign Affairs, to get a better understanding of what happened in Kosovo’s fight for independence from Yugoslavia and the forces of Slobodan Milosevic. I wanted to understand how the conflict in Kosovo might parallel the current turmoil in Syria, and the role of extremism in both places. In particular, I wanted to know why Kosovo never became a significant platform for Islamic extremists, despite its heavily Muslim population and the prolonged period of conflict it endured – both well-known recipes for Islamic radicalism.
If anything, Kosovo has gone in the opposite direction: developing democratic institutions, facilitating economic reform, and even increasing the role of women in society. Of course, Kosovo’s democratic evolution hasn’t been without its problems. Complaints of corruption and inadequacy still plague the government there. But Kosovo has largely avoided the pitfalls of Islamic extremism.
Indeed, extremists actively attempted to develop a foothold throughout the conflict. Thousands arrived “trying to justify the conflict in Kosovo as some sort of religious or civil war,” Mr. Selimi says. Just as with foreign jihadists in Syria, they “were looking at Kosovo as a base not only to fight Serbs but also all of the so-called colonial or anti-Islamic powers.”