Biden’s betrayal of his Bosnian heritage is bad politics – and bad politics
In the final days of Iowa campaigning in 2007, Democratic candidate Senator Joe Biden went on the airwaves to distinguish himself as a steadfast leader with extensive foreign policy experience by claiming he had ended the genocide in Bosnia. Biden has been promoting his positions on Bosnia for most of his career, including during his successful 2020 presidential nomination.
In fact, Joe Biden is considered a hero in Bosnia and Herzegovina and even more so among Bosnian-American citizens. His victory over Donald Trump last year sparked hope and sparked a public celebration in Sarajevo, one of the biggest celebrations in Europe.
Biden was one of the few Democrats willing to criticize President Bill Clinton for his inaction during the genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina and for the values ââon which the United States was founded. His position of principle during the Bosnian War was later used to defend his foreign policy track record, especially against criticism of his opposition to the First Gulf War and his support for the Iraq War.
Unsurprisingly, Biden energized the Bosnian American community during his 2020 candidacy for the presidency. The fellowship supported Biden from the start, including during the Iowa congregations where I. as district captain in Des Moines helped the campaign Bosnian Americans fail.
Almost ten months after his presidency, Biden’s Bosnia policy appears to be a continuation of the most negative aspects of Trump’s Western Balkans policy. Appeasing Serbian and Croatian nationalism in Bosnia, as well as supporting dangerous territorial exchanges between Serbia and Kosovo, is not what Biden promised the Bosnian and Albanian-American communities during his election campaign. The fact that Biden has left Trump-appointed State Department officials in charge of politics in a region that is the bedrock of his foreign policy legacy is even more startling.
Instead of fulfilling its election promise to protect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia – which is currently the most threatened in the past 25 years – officials at the von Biden Foreign Ministry are helping to deepen ethnic discrimination. US officials have openly supported the EU-sponsored changes to Bosnian electoral law, which will radically alter the balance of power and unfairly privilege some demographics over others.
In a gerrymandered federation, the voters of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) will be worth more than the rest of the voters in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This change will allow politicians to choose their constituencies. If passed, the resolution would make the country even less functional and directly contradict the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, as human rights claimant Azra Zornic has argued.
After a serious decline in approval following the hasty Afghanistan withdrawal and the deeply disappointing green light of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Biden can hardly afford another foreign policy failure, especially in a country that is considered to be the heart of its foreign policy legacy. In addition, Bosnia’s betrayal of Serbian and Croatian nationalism will fuel deep resentment among mostly Muslim Bosnian communities around the world.
The close cooperation with EU Commissioner OlivÃ©r VÃ¡rhelyi – delegated by the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – sends the wrong message to progressive forces in the European Union, especially to Germany’s new government coalition. Germany’s foreign policy is led by the Greens – the party in the European Parliament the loudest on Bosnia, the looming secession of the Serbian nationalists and the danger posed by proposed changes to the electoral law.
A values-based foreign policy, rooted in the core values ââof the United States, should not be applied exclusively to white and Christian nations, with lower standards for others. As Biden reminded the world in 1995, Bosniaks suffered genocide simply because they were Muslim. It is a betrayal of the values ââthat the United States holds to be sacred – that all people are equal.
The Balkan foreign policy community is not defending what the Biden government is doing in Bosnia. Experts are critical and unsuccessfully warn of the consequences of this deeply flawed policy. However, Biden can quickly change course and counter the threat to Bosnia’s territorial integrity posed by Russia-backed Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik.
The Government’s National Security Study Memorandum on Combating Corruption states that combating corruption is a “core concern of US national security.” President Biden’s executive order on sanctions in the Western Balkans opens the door to a new approach in the region. In addition to fighting endemic corruption, these new instruments should also be used against the Serbian and Croatian nationalists instead of appeasing them with more power and public funds.
The region is at a turning point. The Serbian politician Milorad Dodik, like Slobodan MiloÅ¡eviÄ, will resort to violence if there is no serious resistance from the USA. The key to weakening Dodik is to expose the rampant corruption that surrounds him – his kleptocratic network is intertwined with that of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Biden administration has made the global fight against corruption a national security interest of the United States. Recent announcements of new sanctions tools to fight global corruption, including authoritarian kleptocracies, bear witness to this concern. The United States must use its new tools to fight corruption around the world, to involve officials and business people who support and empower Dodik and others like him.
The US Congress has been the driving force behind major decisions affecting the Western Balkans for the past thirty years, partly because of Bidenâs activism. Should Biden fail to keep his election promise, his former colleagues are there to hold him accountable. Current Serb-centered politics are not sending a good message to the Bosnian and Albanian-American communities in key congressional constituencies ahead of the mid-term elections.
Reuf Bajrovic is Vice President of the US-Europe Alliance in Washington, DC. He is the first Bosnian-American minister in the government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.