Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Given the recent back-and-forth on the Croatian war, I thought it made sense to focus this installment of the TPM booklist on the 1990s crisis of the former Yugoslavia, what Misha Glenny rightly calls the Third Balkan War.

There are scores of books written on the Balkan Crisis, but today we're recommending two. The first is Misha Glenny's The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War. This is the book for getting the history. Glenny has since written another more broad-ranging book, The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers 1809-1999, which I have not read. But Fall of Yugoslavia is a masterful introduction to just what happened in Yugoslavia in the 1990s. And why things went so horribly wrong.

Glenny is a print and electronic journalist and he is steeped in the colorful particulars of life in 1990s Yugoslavia as only a working journalist who was there can be. He weaves this together with a brisk, engaging narrative, as well as a rich command of the history of the region. There's nothing forced about Glenny's mixture of history and contemporary reporting. The effect is pure elucidation.

Occasionally, reading Glenny, I sensed that he might be too even-handed, finding at least some small measure of blame and sympathy for almost every group in the drama, if not every actor. But in general I don't think there's any faulting him on this ground.

What's most powerful about the book -- aside from its crisp narrative and edifying effect -- is the way it shows just how many people had to act willfully, irresponsibly, and impatiently, in order to lay the groundwork for the horrors that followed. Not just the bad guys, but in many instances the people who would later prove to be the victims -- the Bosnians, the Croats, et. al.

Foolish, irresponsible actions early on by the Bosnian Muslim political leadership, for instance, don't cut away a sliver of responsibility from the Bosnian Serbs for the atrocities they later committed. But Glenny gives you a sense of how one was connected to the other. And the same might be said of the impetuous, early diplomacy of the Germans which, arguably, had similar consequences.

My one misgiving about this book is that it's concerned largely with what happened in the very early 1990s. Glenny updated it twice, most recently in 1996. But the essence of what he's writing about is the very early 1990s, before the post-Dayton, American phase of the war began.

The other book we're recommending today is Love Thy Neighbor by Peter Maass. This is a quite different sort of book. It's about the war in Bosnia. Not the whole of Yugoslavia. It's not a history, either. It's a war reporter's memoir. If you're looking for the big-picture about the Balkans in the 1990s or the what happened in Kosovo or Croatia or inside Serbia, this isn't the book -- though it contains important information on each of those topics.

This is an interior story, what Maass himself saw. And it is by far the best piece of writing I've read of any of the books written on the 1990s Balkans. By far the best.

Reading it you see how the war in Bosnia was tragic in the deepest, most regret-inspiring and folly-filled sense of the word. This book will make you feel moments of agony. It will also make you laugh. Perhaps most uncomfortably, it will sometimes join these two feelings and reactions quite closely in time. I would say it is the best piece of war reporting I've ever read. And I believe it is. Only covering the Bosnian war, as Maass describes it, wasn't exactly a war so much as a loosely-organized, long-running series of individual and group murders.

This book is humane, and comic, and horrifying in each of the right measures and moments. I cannot recommend it more strongly. If you read it I think it will change you. Perhaps forever.

Social Security may not be the most captivating topic around. But it is one of the most important. Here's a new Social Security info page from the folks at Campaign for America's Future.

Who are they? Reliably liberal. And on this topic, completely right.

Think of CAF as the liberal Democrat's version of the DLC (aka Democratic Leadership Council).

Definitely stop by the site.

I just caught a minute of Ari Fleischer's daily briefing today. And what caught my attention was the back-and-forth on Army Secretary Thomas White.

Fleischer 'defended' White against new charges that he had not divested himself of Enron holdings, as he had promised he would during his confirmation hearing. But he 'defended' him only in that highly circumscribed Washington sense of the word that might be loosely translated into the American vernacular as 'hung out to dry.'

In any case, to my ears, the defense sounded distressingly weak. It sounded to me like 'we're sure White's trying to fulfill his promise, we're sure he wants to, he'd better, don't ask me any more questions.'

If I were Thomas White, I'd be quite nervous right now. Not only does it look like he's in quite a good bit of political trouble. But you have to figure also that he's beginning to look a rather convenient scapegoat to Karl Rove and the rest of the folks at the White House political office.

To date, White is the only senior member of the administration that we know was deeply enmeshed in Enron wrong-doing. Not illegality, mind you. At least not necessarily. But the sort of corporate bad practices, while an executive at Enron, which at the very least everyone seems to agree are blameworthy.

Perhaps we'll find that other members of the administration are similarly tainted. But thus far we just have not seen proof of that. I'd imagine that the administration would like nothing better than to demonstrate zero-tolerance for Enron-type shenanigans by tossing some bad-actor overboard -- particularly if they could find someone who fit the bill and yet was utterly expendable.

Just off the top of my head, I think they'd be looking for maybe, say, a 2nd level appointee at a major department, someone of some consequence, but not anyone with deep connections to the principals (or principles) of the administration.

Like I said, if I were Thomas White ...

We've already spoken at some length about 'astroturf' organizing. Let's now discuss one of the great unspoken scandals of DC and the newspaper world: Op-Ed payola.

What do I mean? Far more Op-Eds than you realize are bought and paid for. I don't mean by scholar X whose work is funded by corporation Y or union Z. That may be a problem, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about OpEds which are produced in lobbying chop-shops.

First they're written up by people at the lobbying firm. Then the lobbying firm finds some pliable economist, or scientist, ex-congressman or ex-diplomat and offers them, say, $1000 to sign their name to it. Once they get someone to bite they send it off to the papers.

I've talked to folks who ply at this enterprise and it's pretty common. From what I've been told it's very hard, if not impossible, to pull this off with most of the premium dailies. But many regional papers apparently either don't know about this or don't care. And that's where these bought and paid for pieces get placed.

This is one of the fun topics you'll see mentioned in installment two of Great Moments in Foreign Agency. Today we have the Zaire Program 1991, which DC foreign lobbying shop van Kloberg & Associates prepared for then-Zairian dictator Mobutu. (Zaire is now The Democratic Republic of the Congo.) Give the whole dossier a look. But give particular attention to the points highlighted with red arrows.

How over is Gary Condit? Even I don't have anything more to say about him. Of course, on second thought, his wife's hilarious defamation suit against the rockin' NBC series Law & Order could still produce a few good gags.

If recent reports that Robert Ray may have violated federal law didn't convince you that he is an incorrigible pettifogger and loathsome schemer, then his much-ballyhooed 'final report' on the Clinton investigation should do the trick.

Here's the key point: There is a technical legal term for prosecutors who publicly claim that they had enough evidence to prosecute and win a conviction and yet decided not to do so. They're called liars.

Liars, liars, liars.

This is the classic Starr/Ray tactic of trying to win cheap in the court of public opinion what they couldn't win in a real court.

What's pitiful about Ray is that he actually seems to think that playing the anti-Clinton card might help him pocket a Senate seat from New Jersey. But even the antis don't think or care much about Ray.

Let's just hope this sorry wretch decides to run.

I've had a number requests, actually a number of demands, over the last few days that I address the criticisms, which appeared on another website, of this earlier post of mine on Croatia.

You can read the criticisms for yourself. But, as I read them at least, the criticizer, Ms. Radic, takes issue with me on three basic grounds. 1) What the UN peacekeepers did or didn't do in Croatia's Krajina region. 2) Whether Croatia had a right to retake the Krajina. And 3) whether the Croatian government had a right to attempt to influence the American government to attain its objectives.

The first criticism seems easiest to deal with. Radic says the UN peacekeepers had nothing to do with ending the fighting in the Krajina. Rather, it was a product of a stalemate between JNA forces (the Yugoslav national army under de facto Serb control) and the nascent Croatian army. Is this true? Absolutely. But I never said otherwise. I said they were brought in to "maintain" the peace. And for better or worse the way peacekeeping always works is that a cessation of hostilities -- arrived at by whatever means -- has been arrived at before peacekeepers arrive. So here, we don't disagree. Radic has simply -- and I say with all due respect -- misunderstood what I said.

The second two points are more complex and also related to one another.

It's always difficult to say that one or another state has a "right" to this or that strip of land. But to the extent that any state has such a right, I believe Croatia had such a right with regards to the Krajina. (I welcome anyone to find anything in the original post to the contrary.) Only it's not quite so simple. The Croat reconquest of the Krajina has always been a point of controversy and conflicted opinions for the following reasons ...

The Croats have always had the reputation as relative good guys in the 1990s Balkan wars. And, by and large, I believe this is an accurate perception. But the reconquest of the Krajina was the one instance in which they took actions not that dissimilar to those of their enemies. To the best of my knowledge nothing occurred in the Krajina truly equivalent to the worst excesses that occured in Bosnia. But it wasn't pretty either. A number of high-ranking Croat military officers are now under indictment by the Hague war crimes tribunal for things that occurred during the offensive. And contrary to what Ms. Radic says, most experts do not believe that the misdeeds that occurred were simply the work of a few rogue commanders.

So you have a military action that was largely justified in general terms but in which a number of bad acts did occur.

Now let's discuss a few other areas of complexity. What happened in the Krajina raises the following question. If country A has already attacked country B and employed criminal measures (as the Serbs had) what standards do we apply to country B if they fight back? Do we demand that country B follow all the niceties of the rules of war in fighting back, even if we were unwilling or unable to save them from the first assault? On the face of it that doesn't seem fair. (I think this question raises itself even more forcefully in the case of Kosovo, which hopefully we'll discuss at a later point.)

There's also another point which should be raised. In the early and middle 1990s the US government, through indirect means, provided substantial assistance to the Croats in their efforts to build a modern army. And when the Croats did actually go into the Krajina the US government decided essentially to turn a blind eye. There were a number of reasons for this. But the most important was that the strength of the empowered Croat army bloodied the nose of the JNA and got Milosevic et.al. to come to the Bosnian bargaining table. The US very much wanted some other serious army on the ground in the former Yugoslavia and it ended up being the Croats.

Finally, the whole UN regime in Yugoslavia in the middle 1990s did range from the useless to the scandalous, with UN officials making demands, while not having the authority or the nerve to back up their points with force. One need only read one of the countless books on the crisis in Bosnia to see many examples of this. The US of all countries is least on the line for this, since in the end it was American leadership and American arms which eventually shut down the JNA and Milosevic.

So where does this all leave us? Did the Croatians have the right in the abstract to retake the Krajina? Yes. In the actual circumstance? Yes, but it was a complicated matter and in the event it was not done without significant numbers of war crimes, atrocities and instances of ethnic cleansing. For my part I am quite comfortable calling these "quite ugly consequences." Looked at from a distance, and taking into account the totality of the Balkan War of the 1990s, I'd say that the reconquest of the Krajina was more part of the solution than part of the problem. But that doesn't absolve what occurred there. And it's a close run thing in any case.

Now to the final point, did the Croats have the right to try to influence American policy?

This point brings all the other ones together. Because, properly read, I don't think my post expresses an opinion on this at all. The confusion here may be partly the result of writing by an American being read (for which I'm very glad) by people overseas. But the whole thrust of the post was not aimed at the Croats but rather the American consultants who were working for them.

The Croats can do whatever they believe is in their national interest, especially if it does not violate American law, which this did not. My beef is with Americans who -- for money -- are willing to take a hand in -- however indirectly -- actions which are not only frowned upon but which are violations of the rules of war. The Croats live in a dangerous neighborhood. Well-paid consultants in DC don't.

If you go back and read the documents I posted, I think readers will see quite clearly that the authors of the consulting proposal knew what they were talking about -- ethnic cleansing type activities -- and used euphemisms and talk-arounds to describe them. Is this illegal? No. But I think Americans should know that these are the types of services which foreign countries can buy in Washington, DC. For a price.

So, to sum up a long-winded response ... Radic misunderstood me on certain points. And on others she was expressing understandable outrage -- just not at anything I actually said. If anyone has any questions, I'd recommend that they read my comments and her response.

P.S. To those who sent in some of the more strident comments, I'd recommended you be more civil and -- even more -- important, read more carefully. It'll save you endless embarrassment.

All is okay with TPM, just reporting from the road (today in NYC). More posts later today, including another installment of great moments in foreign agency. Today the Zaire Program 1991.

What shall we call it? Great moments in foreign agency?

One of the points of Talking Points is to give you a peek behind the curtain and let you see how Washington really works. Well, here's a revealing, tragicomic, ugly example.

There've been a number of items in the news of late about the on-going efforts to bring various Balkan war criminals to account.

But let's go back to 1992 and '93.

Back then, one TPM World Exclusive!  You heard it hear first!  Must Credit.of the contested areas was the part of Croatia called the Krajina. This was essentially an ethnic Serb enclave within the borders of Croatia and as you might imagine this became a volatile crisis point in the fighting between Serbs and Croats. In any case, United Nations peace-keepers were sent into the region in the beginning of 1992 to maintain the peace. And did a reasonably good, though by no means perfect, job at it.

For a while, the matter was thus placed in suspense, until 1995 when then-Croatian President Franjo Tudjman gave the UN Mission an ultimatum to leave. Eventually the Croatians rolled in and retook the region with some quite ugly consequences.

As we noted a couple months ago, Croatia got help laying the groundwork for this rampage from a DC PR and lobbying shop called Jefferson Waterman International. JWI agreed to help the Croatians deal with whatever bad press might ensue from reasserting their ethnic rights in the region.

So how exactly does a lobbying outfit make this sort of pitch to a foreign head of state? How do public relations and war crimes mix? Well, today we're proud to show you.

Click here to see JWI's proposal for yourself. Trust me, it's worth a look.

Here's an interesting article on an important topic you've probably never heard about: American POWs forced into slave labor in Japan during World War II, their current efforts to seek judicial relief in the courts, and the State Department's long-running effort to stand in their way.

The piece is in the Taipei Times and it's by Steve Clemons. You can find links to articles on this and other related topics at Steve's site, steveclemons.com.