Just as most people don’t know that a small, relatively new Caribbean island nation has named the highest point to be found there, Mount Obama, I did not know until very recently that a small, even newer country in the Balkans had named a major street in its capital city, Pristina, after Bill Clinton. They have even erected a heroic-looking statue to the man on that boulevard, with a gigantic portrait of him identified as the 42nd president of the United States topping a large American flag, cut off to fit the blank wall of a building right behind the statue. Above the portrait is a large silhouette of the country honoring him. There is also a huge building-side photo of Clinton clasping the hand of a likely local leader whom I am unable to identify.
The Caribbean country honoring Obama is Antigua and Barbuda; the Balkan country honoring Clinton is Kosovo. The former honor was made because of who the man is—the first person of African heritage to become president of the United States—rather for anything that he might have done for the Caribbean country. By contrast, one can certainly say, for better or for worse, that President Clinton certainly earned the honor bestowed upon him by the government of Kosovo. Without the major intervention by NATO, led by the United States, and its relentless 1999 bombing of Serbia, of which the Kosovo region had long been an important historical part, there is absolutely no chance that Kosovo would have become a separate, independent country.
The government of Kosovo is right to single out Bill Clinton as the responsible party for their independence from Serbia, that is, in so far as he has ever been his own man, even when president. The American people themselves never had much of a say in the crushing air assault upon a relatively defenseless Serbia. This was only the latest in a series of very one-sided “humanitarian” wars waged by American presidents, justified through media propaganda, following up Reagan’s assault on Grenada and George H. W. Bush’s attacks on Panama and then on Iraq after Saddam Hussein had been led to believe that he had a free hand to settle his oil dispute with neighboring Kuwait militarily. The justification given in this latest instance was that the Serbian tyrant, the tyrant du jour, if you will, Slobodan Milosevic, was engaging in atrocities in his effort to put down the insurrection led by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which, itself, hardly had clean hands, to put it mildly.
Even with its best efforts, the press never did a particularly effective job of explaining why it was in U.S. national interests—so much so that we had to intervene militarily—for the secession of the territory of Kosovo, which in the 20th century had come to be dominated by ethnic Albanians through immigration from neighboring Albania and a high birth rate. With the future of California in mind, we might even have seen Kosovo’s independence from Serbia as the establishment of a very bad precedent. But it hardly mattered. We just bombed, meeting little resistance and without any blood cost, so Bill had his splendid little war and has since been duly honored with his street, posters, and statue.
Good and Bad Secession
The whole episode invites further reflection. As we have noted, Kosovo’s secession from Serbia stood virtually no chance without U.S./NATO intervention. As a general rule, secession movements need powerful outside patrons. What we call the American Revolution was really a war of secession from the British Empire by the thirteen American colonies. It is unlikely to have been successful without the assistance of the French. The decisive Siege of Yorktown, resulting in the surrender of the British General Charles Cornwallis, is properly called by historians a Franco-American victory, though it is likely that few Americans are aware of the fact. The French certainly know it. A gigantic reminder is in the Hall of Paintings at the Palace of Versailles in the form of a work by Louis Charles-Auguste Couder’s work appropriately titled “The Siege of Yorktown.” Since 2017, visitors to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia have been able to see a replica of that painting.
Another reminder of the crucial French role in the American war of secession is that the Marquis de Lafayette has his own hero statues in this country, including one in a square that is named for him right in front of the White House. I think the first historical marker I ever saw is the one honoring Lafayette beside the road we traveled on to do our shopping in the nearby town of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, from the farm community of Red Oak, in which I grew up. The marker is practically across the road from the town’s rather elaborate monument to the soldiers of the Confederacy.
That latter statue reminds us of another big war of secession, one that failed, largely because it lacked a powerful external patron. It was not for want of trying. The natural ally for the Confederacy was Great Britain, which obtained most of its cotton, crucial for its manufacturing economy, from the Southern states, and it was heavily invested in the South. The Northern states were Britain’s economic rivals and the high-tariff policies of President Abraham Lincoln and his Whig and Republican supporters were anathema to it. For that reason and others, the sympathy of Lord Palmerston, the British Prime Minister, and many other British leaders lay with the Confederacy. It’s unlikely that Britain would have sent troops to aid the South, but it might have used its superior sea power to relieve the economic pressure on the South and increase it on the North. If the British had intervened for the South and the secession had succeeded, a statue or two of Lord Palmerston might well be among the first that I would have encountered in my young Tar Heel life.
A rather shrewd political move by President Lincoln was largely responsible for Britain staying out of that war, though. That was his issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in the wake of the Battle of Antietam. It actually freed no slaves, because it only applied to that territory under the control of the Confederacy, but, because the anti-slavery movement was politically strong in Britain, it cut the legs out from under any movement in Britain to ally itself with the Confederacy.
Another major war of secession occurred in Africa a little more than a century later. That is the Nigerian Civil War, 1967-1970, in which the southern region of Biafra unsuccessfully attempted to secede from the central state. Had we wanted to use the “atrocity” excuse that we used for intervening on behalf of the secessionists that we used for Kosovo, the Nigerian military certainly provided ample opportunity for it. But, as it happened, the former colonial masters, the British, actually provided material support for the central government, while the United States remained neutral, and the secession failed.
Another reason why this country, and the people of Great Britain, as well, might have favored Biafra in that war is that its dominant ethnic group, the members of the Igbo tribe, are largely Christian and very Westernized. The Hausa and Fulani tribes controlling the central government, by contrast, are largely Muslim and the virtual antithesis of the Igbos when it comes to Westernization. But neither favoritism toward Christianity nor toward the more progressive populace played any role in the U.S./NATO intervention on behalf of Kosovo, either. As with Biafra, at least as far as the British were concerned, it was quite the contrary. The largely Albanian Kosovars are Muslim, while the Serbs are more advanced economically and Christian.
So, what was it that the Kosovars and the KLA had going for them that the Igbos and the Biafrans did not? Perhaps the answer to the question is to be found in a 2008 article by Tom Burghardt entitled, “Welcome to Kosovo! The World’s Newest Narco State.” A couple of passages from that article get right to the heart of the matter:
As in Bosnia Herzegovina and Croatia, the Kosovo Liberation Army was secretly armed by America and Germany and remains what it has always been, a creature of Western intelligence services.
Hypocritically, while Washington had officially designated the KLA a “terrorist organization” funded by the heroin trade, the Clinton administration was complicit with their German allies in the division of the Serb province along ethnic and religious lines.
In Kosovo, Hashim Thaci’s KLA served as the militarized vanguard for the Albanian mafia whose “15 Families” control virtually every facet of the Balkan heroin trade. Kosovar traffickers ship heroin originating exclusively from Asia’s Golden Crescent. At one end lies Afghanistan where poppy is harvested for transshipment through Iran and Turkey; as morphine base it is then refined into “product” for worldwide consumption. From there it passes into the hands of the Albanian syndicates who control the Balkan Route.
As a place for the real power behind the U.S. government to intervene militarily, Kosovo, it would seem, has a lot more in common with Afghanistan than with Biafra. To explain that, let me turn to a couple of my previous articles. The first is my review article of Sally Denton and Roger Morris’s 2001 book, The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America. This quote from that article says it all:
One cannot talk about power and corruption in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century without mentioning the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). We learn from Denton and Morris that the well-known collaboration between the CIA and the mob in the attempt to assassinate Cuban dictator Fidel Castro was hardly an anomaly. As wielders of secret power, the mob—or the Syndicate if you prefer—and the CIA are in the same business, and they have found it in many instances to work together rather than to compete. The cooperation has been so complete in such things as illicit drug smuggling and the laundering of money that it is often difficult to figure out where one of them stops and the other begins. I lost track at a count of 30 pages as I was going through the various sub-categories in the index for mention of the CIA (e.g. assassination plots, 71, 174, 208, 209-10, 213, 246, 253, 293, 295-296, 297, 298, 299, 306-7, 307-12; drug trade and, 6, 52, 103, 143, 311-12, 329….)
The second article is “The Heroin Epidemic and the News.” The point of that article is that the absolutely devastating national death toll from drug overdoses is called unanimously by the news media simply as an “opioid epidemic” and the blame is laid almost completely upon the pharmaceutical industry and doctors who over-prescribe pain killers. While it is true that the synthetic opioid, fentanyl, has risen greatly as a drug-related cause of death, heroin remains an important cause, and it is also true that the press avoidance of that fact has become even more pronounced than it was when I wrote the article. Heroin and the fact that our invasion of Afghanistan resulted in a huge increase in its origination from that country would appear to be completely off-limits for our news media.
Now let us return to the Burghardt article for another quote:
According to regional experts the outlook for Kosovo is grim. The economy is in shambles, unemployment hovers near 50 percent, a population of young people with “criminality as the sole career choice” populate a society tottering on the brink of collapse where the state is dominated by organized crime.
How appropriate, one might say, that their national hero should be Bill Clinton, he of the Mena Airport CIA drug-smuggling operation! See also the section entitled “Vince Foster’s Criminal Connections?” in my 2016 article, “Was Vince Foster’s Murder PizzaGate-Related?” Perhaps the illicit drug business connection also explains why Pristina has named a street for President George W. Bush, as well. And when it comes to honoring prominent Americans of doubtful probity, Kosovo has not neglected that other Clinton. Near the statue on Bill Clinton Boulevard one can buy fashionable pants suits at the “Hillary” boutique.