By JAMES GEORGE JATRAS
During its final year in office, the Bush administration has a full plate on the foreign front: intractable war in Iraq, Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, concerns about Iran's nuclear program, nuclear uncertainty in North Korea, increasingly unstable nuclear-armed Pakistan, and hopes for an ever-elusive settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
With all that to juggle, one might think Washington would hesitate to trigger a blowup on a seemingly unimportant matter that could transform into a full-blown global crisis. Yet that is exactly what the administration intends to do with respect to the Serbian province of Kosovo.
Since the 1999 NATO war against what was then Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia, Kosovo has been under U.N. administration. The province remains legally part of Serbia as Albanian Muslims escalate their demands to create an independent country. Despite pious assurances of protection, the remaining Christian Serbs know that Kosovo's independence would mean curtains for them. With a quarter of a million Serbs (and other non-Albanians: Roma (Gypsies), Croats, Gorani, all the Jews) terrorized from the province during the past nine years of "peacetime" when the rest of the world had turned it eyes elsewhere, the Serbs' fears are well-founded. Since 1999, some 150 Christian shrines have been destroyed or desecrated. At the same time, hundreds of mosques have been built, mainly with Saudi money and propagating the intolerant Wahhabi brand of Islam.
The effective authority in the Albanian Muslim community is an organized crime network trafficking in drugs, women and weapons. The legitimate economy is virtually nonexistent. Independent or not, it's hard to see how Kosovo ceases to be an economic basket case and black hole of terror, crime and corruption, despite billions of aid dollars and euros dumped into the place.
In short, Kosovo is a mess, and it's not obvious how or when that can be changed. Left alone, it might remain one of the worlds simmering sore spots, like Kashmir or Cyprus, until the parties manage to come to some agreement -- or don't.
However, for reasons that are hard to understand, the Bush administration -- joined, oddly enough, by Hillary Clinton -- demands that immediate independence for Kosovo's Albanians is the only possible solution. The fact that democratic Serbia refuses to concede amputation of 15 percent of its territory, and has offered the Albanians the fullest autonomy enjoyed by any minority group anywhere in the world, is ignored. Likewise dismissed is the fact that the relevant U.N. Security Council Resolution affirms Serbia's sovereignty, which Russia insists must be respected.
If, as now planned, Kosovo's Albanians declare independence after a green light from Washington, a bad situation would get much worse. Violence would flare as Muslim Albanians step up their attacks on Christian Serbs. Belgrade would be forced to consider how to respond as its citizens are targeted under the eyes of an illegal occupying force. Moscow, livid at the prospect of an end-run of the Security Council, has said it stands ready to aid Serbia if asked. Countries around the world would be forced to take sides on whether to recognize Kosovo's independence. Most probably would not, as separatist groups in dozens of countries cite Kosovo as reason to demand carving out their own states. Washington might find itself isolated, along with a few countries that had followed our lead.
Setting all this in motion might be justified if there were some obvious U.S. benefit. But the opposite is the case. Why should we provoke a needless fight with a newly muscular Russia? Especially after Sept. 11, why should America want to be midwife to the birth of a new Islamic country in Europe? Already having experienced "blowback" in the form of the jihad terror plot against Fort Dix, N.J., where four of the six indictees are Albanian Muslims from the Kosovo region, why give the Albanian mafia a consolidated base from which to extend its operations?
The United States has no interest in creating an independent Kosovo, even if it were easy to achieve. The fact that trying to separate Kosovo from Serbia would be anything but easy would just add one more headache to our list. If the Bush administration has any sense, it will leave Kosovo to the next president, whoever that might be.