Comparisons of Yugoslavia, Iraq

Re “Is Iraq turning into Yugoslavia?” Opinion, Feb. 21

Max Boot cited the enormous costs and the terrible things that happen when countries fall apart. The instability, the carnage, the horror -- so unnecessary, so avoidable. Please remember, Max, that intervention doesn’t change things -- it just holds them down. If a maniac is fueling ancient flames, you can be sure that the potential was always there and will continue to be there until the root cause of hatred is faced by those involved. A tense stability is not what I would call a peaceful coexistence. I would rather face an honest enemy than a deceptive friend.





I am glad that Boot has figured out the connection between Yugoslavia and Iraq. Gen. Eric Shinseki drew the parallel in 2003 when he told Congress that “several hundred thousand” troops would be needed to stabilize Iraq after initial victory. In May 2003, Boot wrote, “This probably will not require the 200,000 troops suggested by Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, but it will require a long-term commitment of at least 60,000 to 75,000 soldiers, the number estimated by Joint Staff planners.”

Shinseki made his calculation based on his experience commanding the stabilization force in Bosnia, where I served with him. In early 2003, while many neocons, including Boot, claimed that Germany and Japan were the model for democratizing Iraq, I was among many who wrote that Yugoslavia was the more apt parallel, historically and ethnically. Had we recognized that in 2003, we would be in a very different place now.


U.S. ambassador, retired


The writer was head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission in Sarajevo from 1998 to 2001.



Boot is blind to the true lesson from Yugoslavia. A country disintegrates when the forces pulling it apart are stronger than those holding it together. Yugoslavia was an artificial creation from Versailles, formed with no regard for ethnicity, and thus a civil war waiting to happen.

But its layout now reflects its geopolitical demographics, so there is peace. Iraq is another artificial creation, now held together only by our exhausted army. In the long term, it too must be partitioned.

We won’t get control of the oil; we won’t be selling it on world markets priced in dollars. There won’t be any more profiteering by Vice President Dick Cheney’s friends. There won’t be any statues of Bush in Iraq. But I can live with all that.





U.S. intervention in Yugoslavia is somewhat incomparable to the current action in Iraq because the U.S.-led invasion launched that conflict, whereas the conflict in Yugoslavia was launched from within. It is unlikely that the actors in Iraq and the region will change their perception of the U.S. military presence in Iraq from occupation to intervention no matter what the U.S. government says its plan is.

In cases where there is such an uncertainty of ideas, it is best always to defer to the victims rather than rely on plans from those who have been consistently wrong, indeed incompetent, from the beginning.



New York