Trouble signs out of

Trouble signs out of the Balkans.

A week ago Misha Glenny wrote in The Guardian that we are in danger of squandering NATO’s success in stabilizing and ending the bloodshed in the region by failing to secure a permanent territorial and constitutional settlement. The ‘we’ is slightly misleading since, as Glenny notes, there is common agreement that the EU should take the lead political role in the long-term stabilization of the Balkans.

Today, though, the Financial Times adds another worrisome piece of news. The Pentagon is making a serious push to pull US forces out of Balkans altogether. The Army has always wanted to get those troops out. And administration hardliners have always taken a dim view of the whole enterprise. But the problem today is real. After years of saying our military was overstretched, we are now extremely overstretched. According to that recent CBO report, we are faced with the possibility that we will have no choice but to dramatically reduce our troop deployment in what is very much an active theater of operations.

Their total number is fewer than 4,000. But they’re at least of great symbolic value and quite possibly operational value as well.

What distresses me most is a quote like this, which the FT article has from an “administration official”: “The Balkans have always been essentially a European challenge more than an American one. Much of Europe seems bound and determined to leave Iraq as primarily an American challenge. Perhaps, therefore, a more clear-cut division of labour is in order.”

The pique there is unmistakable. And the one thing we really don’t want is to torpedo our successes in the Balkans (which are looking increasingly well-handled in contrast to recent bumbling) with the acrimony over Iraq.

Plus, if you look at that quote, it really does seem to mix the worst of Bush I with the worst of Bush II, doesn’t it?