The arrest of Radovan Karadzic yesterday seems both a belated nod toward justice (wonder if aggressive warriors Bush and Cheney are noticing?) and yet another indication of how tortuous progress toward an international rule of law necessarily is. Karadzic was the leader of the Bosnian Serbs 1992-1995 during their all-too-effective attempt to "ethnically cleanse" Bosnia of Muslims and Croats. He has been a fugitive from a war crimes indictment by the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia ever since.
I have to confess that I pretty much didn't do the work during the 1990s to try to understand the vicious wars that followed on the break up of Yugoslavia. I had good excuses. I was busy working against a series of populist racist initiatives in California and against Bill Clinton's choice to tear up the federal safety net for poor mothers in the name of "welfare reform." Moreover I was guilty of an intellectual fault I'm sometimes too eager to point out in others: I had worked hard to understand a series of U.S. imperial adventures in Southeast Asia, Africa and Central America. The ongoing Balkan horror story was about white Europeans and didn't seem to be directly something the U.S. had brought about -- my paradigms for looking at events didn't fit. I'd have to learn a lot of new, hard stuff to make any sense of these events. I looked away instead.
An Obama administration is likely to be full of people whose paradigms were formed looking at the failings and (few) successes of international response to the Balkan disaster. Adviser Samantha Power is the most prominent example. If we want to know what they are likely to champion, those of use who attend to U.S. international behavior would be wise to study the history of 1990s.
To that end, I've been reading Elizabeth Neuffer's The Key to My Neighbor's House: Seeking Justice in Bosnia and Rwanda. I would highly recommend this approachable, human, journalistic account of the 1990's two most horrific genocides. (Did I really just write that sentence?) Neuffer had the guts to go where the killing was fresh and an ability to get people to tell her the abominable things they had survived. She also sympathetically reported on the stumbling efforts of create courts to bring perpetrators to justice -- and the search for reconciliation that would somehow reconstitute societies blown apart by violence. No big conclusions here -- but lots to mull over. She wrote, explaining why she had presevered in writing about these horrors:
Elizabeth Neuffer became one of the early civilian casualties of the current U.S. war on Iraq when, while reporting for the Boston Globe near Samarra in May 2003, the car in which she was riding struck a guardrail and turned over.