An article last week in Foreign Policy magazine makes some key points. I’m excerpting them below:

Thug Life

Think Mubarak was bad? Kosovo’s leaders are accused of being organ-smuggling, drug-dealing goons — and the United States is looking the other way.


…While the United States grappled with its inability (whether for lack of a fulcrum or fear of meddling) to use leverage to remove the regimes in Tunis and Cairo, it actually does have the power to affect change and promote transparent and accountable governance in Pristina — where a coterie of thuggish leaders, holdovers from a Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) unit accused of war crimes and weapons dealing, now run the country. But, thus far, Washington has been unwilling to exert the necessary pressure on Kosovo’s leaders — and in its impotence pours billions of dollars down the drain and risks condemning the state to thugocracy.

While much has been made of America’s financial support of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and other autocratic dictatorships in recent weeks, Kosovo’s democracy has received far more direct American aid in recent years — in 2010, Kosovo received more than twice the American bilateral foreign assistance per capita than Egypt. Yet, after more than a decade of immense international investment and the best-resourced humanitarian mission the world has ever seen, Kosovo enters its fourth year of independence amid its own internal turmoil.

…As it turns out, U.S. support for the world’s youngest democracy has been almost as bad for economic security, political stability and democratic principles as backing the globe’s oldest autocracies…But support for Kosovo has been premised on developing a politically stable, democratic country.

In actuality, it has entrenched deep political divisions in an already fragmented government and ensconced an elite that now operates above the law. Having failed to improve Kosovo’s moribund economy and human development indicators, the former-KLA power brokers of the central government have somehow managed to accrue personal wealth vastly out of proportion with their declared activities. Their development and state-building policy has largely consisted of maintaining its own power over institutions of state, security, and law and order.

Until last year, keeping Kosovo stable — or at least appearing so — had been prioritized by the international community over pursuing clear evidence of increasing corruption among senior government officials. But, as the international money poured in throughout 2010, the veneer cracked. A wave of organized crime, war crime, and corruption allegations swept the senior membership of the Kosovo government and the leaderships of its major political parties.

On April 28, 2010, international police raided the offices and home of Transport and Telecommunications Minister Fatmir Limaj in connection with a corruption probe into a €700 million infrastructure project. Suspected of soliciting bribes and laundering up to €2 million from the public purse, the raid on Limaj was the result of a two-year investigation that started shortly after he took office in January 2008. At that point, he had only just returned in September 2007 from his second trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia ICTY — indicted but never convicted of illegal imprisonment, cruel treatment, and inhumane acts during the war with Serbian forces in 1998-1999.

At the time of Limaj’s arrest, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) announced he was only one of seven ministers being investigated for links to organized crime and corruption in office.

Two months after the raid on Limaj, on July 21, 2010 popular former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj was indicted for a second time by the ICTY to stand trial for war crimes including torture, rape, and crimes against humanity. His application for provisional release was denied and he currently awaits trial in remand at the United Nations Detention Unit in The Hague. On Jan. 31, it was announced that the opposition party he leads from his cell, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo, placed fourth in the general election — taking a substantial 11 percent of the vote.

Two days after Haradinaj’s arrest, Kosovo police arrested central bank governor Hashim Rexhepi on charges of corruption, tax evasion, and money laundering.

…Marty’s report identified the leader of Drenica Group as a man called “The Snake” — a.k.a. Hashim Thaqi, who two days earlier had been named prime minister re-elect of the Republic of Kosovo. He has officially taken office in time for Kosovo’s third Independence Day celebrations.

All of the condemned leadership have been quick to accuse the international community of “political lynching,” interfering with domestic affairs of state, and inappropriate investigations into an independent government. Hardly.

In fact, the most disturbing aspect of these events were the revelations that Kosovo’s thugocrats owe their rise and continued impunity to the toleration or outright support of the international community — particularly the United States.

…It was [American officials’] lobbying and support that gave the KLA the legitimacy they needed to transition from armed gang to political powerbrokers.

In 1999, the U.S. endorsement of Thaqi as hero was sealed with a kiss planted on his cheek by then Secretary of State Madeline Albright on her post-intervention visit to Kosovo. In 2004, every American staffer at the U.S. Embassy was invited to attend Haradinaj’s wedding — and, despite his links to organized crime and impending indictment on war crimes, they went. Most recently, the night after the raid on Limaj’s home and offices, U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Christopher Dell was seen laughing and chatting with the minister at a well-attended party in Pristina.

It is difficult to see how democracy or respect [for] the rule of law could develop and flourish amid such overt displays of American support for a corrupt and criminal leadership. As in Egypt and across the Middle East, this policy of impunity comes at significant cost to the objectives and perceptions of the United States and its Western allies. This backing for Kosovo government officials has undercut efforts to pursue indictments for war crimes and investigate high-level corruption. The war crimes taking place throughout the 1998-1999 conflict and in the immediate aftermath have never been fully investigated — in fact, in some cases they have been covered up.

International judicial experts…allege international political interference stopped some cases from going before a court because “the political ramifications would have been too great.” And only days before the independence celebrations, their accusations were given considerable weight with the leaking of classified U.N. documents that show UNMIK ran an incomplete investigation into the organ trafficking case brought to light by Marty in late 2010. The documents date from 2003 — when UNMIK was in full control of the internal war crimes investigations and prosecutions.

So, that Kosovo holds elections should be small consolation to those in U.S. foreign policy who advocate championing principles over personalities. Democracy has not stopped the West from supporting and installing its preferred leaders in countries of geopolitical strategic importance — local strongmen who hold the tumultuous societies of war-torn countries together with an iron fist rather than a rule of law.

…The first principle in aiding the construction of new democracies must be to support conditions that prevent anyone from operating above the law. Even in a place like Kosovo, where Western influence might seem overwhelming, allowing space for impunity vitiates virtually everything else accomplished by even the most extravagant intervention.

Whit Mason worked for the United Nations in Kosovo and Afghanistan. He is the co-author of Peace at Any Price: How the World Failed Kosovo and editor of The Rule of Law in Afghanistan: Missing in Inaction, to be published in February. Bronwyn Healy-Aarons recently spent six months in Kosovo and is completing a PhD in post-conflict peace-building at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.

(On the point of the disproportionate aid that tiny Kosovo gets, while remaining Europe’s poorest ‘country,’ Freedom House makes the comparison that “since 1999 Kosovo has received 25 times more international aid per capita than Afghanistan. At a donor conference in Brussels in 2008 alone 1.2 billion Euros were raised from 37 countries and 16 international organizations.”)


A blogged response on The Conservative American website by Daniel Larison had a few additional good points:

It’s not exactly shocking news for some of us that supporting an independent Kosovo run by terrorists turns out to be a waste of U.S. resources. The article is valuable for reporting on the extent of the criminality and misrule of Kosovo’s new rulers, including war crimes…but going back to before the 1999 war there was good reason to suspect the KLA of most or all of the crimes that their leaders have been committing. Back then, the enthusiasm to support self-determination and to oppose Milosevic was too great, so naturally the solution was to start a war and set up an impoverished statelet run by hoodlums.

The authors note: “As it turns out, U.S. support for the world’s youngest democracy has been almost as bad for economic security, political stability and democratic principles [bold mine-DL] as backing the globe’s oldest autocracies.”

Who would have guessed that? It’s almost as if mindlessly endorsing separatist movements and following abstract Wilsonian principles lead to bad outcomes…The better time to think through all of this was in 1999 and the years immediately following. At the very least, not recognizing Kosovo’s independence would have been wise. Kosovo might still be run by thugs, but they wouldn’t have the seal of approval that comes with being recognized as the elected government of a supposedly sovereign state. The article details at some length the extent to which the U.S. was responsible for empowering and legitimizing the KLA. That is the real legacy of “humanitarian” intervention.

Obviously, it’s too late for undoing critical mistakes, so what can be done now that the U.S. has saddled itself with a criminal gang-dominated dependency? The article makes no recommendations, but I’ll propose one or two to start. The easiest option would be to suspend all aid to the current government. Even if U.S. aid isn’t directly fueling the leadership’s corruption, it is subsidizing a government that is rife with it. Another would be to target the leadership’s financial assets to be frozen, or at least make it more difficult for them to benefit from their illicit profits. The U.S. should also be willing to assist in arresting and transporting indicted leaders to stand trial. Washington is quite directly responsible for the current situation, so there is some obligation for the U.S. to attempt some remedy.

We all understand that Washington probably won’t do any of these things, because propping up Kosovo as an independent state never had much to do with the quality of governance in Kosovo or the well-being of its population. That much was obvious from the beginning of the 1999 war. Bombing and then partitioning Serbia were statements of U.S. power and influence, and Washington isn’t going to be eager to draw attention to how badly all of this turned out.