Monday, May 01, 2006

# Posted 4:42 PM by Patrick Porter  

BOMBING AND REVOLUTION I go this thought-provoking email recently from a reader:
I've been reading a lot in the press about the idea you raise--that military action against the unpopular regime in Tehran will spark a domestic revolution that will advance U.S. interests in the region--and I am puzzled why otherwise serious people think this is likely.

It may indeed lead to a popular revolution, but I seriously doubt it would lead to a regime friendly to the U.S or our interests...One thing that pro-Democracy Serbs will tell you is that their internal political resistance to Milosevic was doing quite well in late '98 and into '99 until the NATO bombing. Regardless of their feelings for Milosevic (who was even then widely despised, even by many nationalists) and the atrocities in Kosovo, otherwise pro-democracy Serbs found themselves in an untenable situation.

A democratic revolution requires the participation of the population. Most people will see the manipulation of a military invasion to attempt the overthrow of the government to be treasonous. Djindjic, for instance, spent most of the Kosovo conflict in Montenegro (run by the current anti-Milosevic regime, which was a tacit U.S. ally in the conflict) and made the mistake of being recorded saying that he thought Serbia should be bombed. He, of course, never recovered from that flub and the pro-democracy politicians, under U.S. pressure, were forced to draft Djindjic's nationalist rival Vojislav Kostunica to lead the coalition in the 2000 elections that led to Milosevic's ouster.

The bombing continues to color Serbian politics. Kostunica got a free pass to power, which means the current government is much more nationalist and anti-American than it might have been. Djindjic's party and his democratic allies were branded as traitors in the eyes of many and have had a difficult time regaining the trust of average Serbs. Granted, Djindjic's successors have been pretty inept politically, but there is no question that they are stained by their perceived relationship with NATO and the U.S.

Now, all that said, there was a democratic revolution about 16 months after the NATO bombing. However, most liberals in Serbia will tell you the bombing: 1.) destroyed the opposition's momentum and bought Milosevic time, 2.) fueled Serbian nationalism, and 3.) allowed illiberal and anti-American factions to take control of the political coalition that threw Milosevic out of power. All of these, I think, are defensible points.

Perhaps the more important question for U.S. Balkan policy is: was the rescue of Kosovar Albanians more important than creating a liberal, democratic Serbia that supports U.S. objectives in the region?

I happen to think the answer is yes because Serbian revanchism has no viable recourse and is, thus, manageable and not an immediate threat to the peace of Europe.

We have to ask a similar question about Iran: is the temporary interruption to Iran's nuclear weapons program worth the potential alienation of an entire generation that is reportedly pro-American and already interested in democratic regime change? Last time I checked, we don't have a lot of friends in that neighborhood, unlike in the the Balkans where all of Serbia's neighbors except Bosnia are in NATO or PfP.

This is a question I don't have an answer to, but I'm not sure we can afford turning Iran into a nuclear-armed Serbia with enormous oil reserves and great power support (Moscow and Beijing). If we bomb Iran and there is an eventual democratic revolution, how do we deal with a resentful regional power, in possession of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons (given current global conditions, we cannot stop indefinitely that process short of physical occupation or destruction of the country itself), that has the domestic legitimacy that the current regime lacks? Unfortunately, I don't think we're in a position right now to have our cake and eat it, too. To mix metaphors, bombing Tehran sure would taste sweet but, I think, quickly turn bitter in our stomachs.
(4) opinions -- Add your opinion

well, Serbia might not like the US after being bombed, but at least it stopped a murderous dictator from murdering more people...
and, of course, it helped Clinton not to be impeached.
As a side note in a closer region, large parts of Iraq did rebel after the US began bombing. If the US does bomb, lets hope the Iranian rebels didn't pay that close of attention to the outcome.
This is a cogent and illuminating analysis.

On the other hand, we should recognize that the wars in Iraq and Serbia were not real wars. Real wars are fought to the death - to the exhaustion and surrender of an entire population and the destruction of most of their cities, after both sides have inflicted the maximum damage they can deliver (see WWII).

If, as it increasingly appears, we are sooner or later going to have to fight a real war against one or more Islamic regimes before the rest of them wake up and realize that this is the 21st century, then starting with one which is on the brink of developing nuclear weapons starts to look like a really good idea.
From the world of Rabbi Small (Harry Kellerman), the pilpul: Which is worse having Iranians annoyed with us, having Iranians nuke us?
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