By Brendan O’Neill
Oh no, this is not good, this is not good at all: more and more Western observers are starting to describe Syria as “the new Bosnia”. Which can mean only one thing. The liberal commentariat is on the hunt for a new mission, for another messy civil war that it can squeeze into a simplistic moral framework, for a new foreign field that it can transform into a soapbox from which to declare its unwavering commitment to the combat of “evil”. Yes, the crusading chattering classes are determined to fill the Bosnia-shaped hole in their lives, and by God they will do everything they can to make Syria fit.
You can always tell when the Left-leaning commentariat is feeling bored with life – it starts fantasising about “new Bosnias”, about horror-riddled lands overseas which require the good men and women of Hampstead, Paris and New York to highlight their plight. The discovery of “new Bosnias” never tells us much about what is actually happening in the world. After all, how could the historically specific three-year conflict that tore the former Yugoslavia apart in the early 1990s magically reappear in a different place and with different actors? History doesn’t work like that. Rather, the talk of “new Bosnias” speaks to a desperate and narcissistic need for a foreign debacle that might provide these Westerners with the same sense of purpose they last felt during “the original Bosnia”.
So even though there are vast differences between Bosnia 1992 and Syria 2012, hacks are starting to ask “Is Syria the new Bosnia?” The “bombardment of Homs is eerily similar to what happened in Sarajevo in 1992”, says one commentator, despite the fact that numerous city sieges over the past 20 years, including Gaddafi’s of Benghazi or America’s of Fallujah, could be compared with Sarajevo. “In its random cruelty, the conflict in Syria starts to resemble the war in Bosnia 20 years ago”, says a Reuters reporter – as if all wars, everywhere, have not always contained acts of random cruelty. The influential Washington Institute says that when trying to work out what to do about Syria, we should “draw on lessons from Bosnia in the 1990s”. Others who likewise look at the world through Bosnia Goggles, hoping to spot another civil conflict that might provide the witterings of pro-intervention iPad imperialists with some gravitas, tell us there is an “air of déjà vu about these scenes [in Syria]”.
Yet the only thing that Syria has in common with Bosnia – which it also shares with less fashionable modern conflicts, from Congo to Sri Lanka – is that it is bloody and complex and tragic. The real motivation behind the use of the historically illiterate “new Bosnia” tag is not accurate assessment of what is unfolding in Syria, but rather to cohere the currently crusade-less commentariat around a new foreign mission. They are desperate for a repeat of the Bosnia buzz of the early 1990s, when everyone from playwrights to pop stars to journalists-cum-warriors-against-the-Nazi-Serbs descended on Sarajevo to shed tears, swig whiskey, and pose for photos in front of tanks. It is really the self-serving moralising of the Bosnia period that is being reproduced; we are told that Syria today, just like Bosnia in the early 1990s, shows that “sitting on one’s hands… is not a strategy but a substitute for one”.
In short, what these Bosniaheads really see in Syria is an opportunity to repeat the grandstanding they indulged in during the Yugoslav wars of the early 1990s, to demonstrate once more their own goodness by calling for “the world” to intervene on the side of “good” against “evil”. They want to reduce Syria to a simple litmus test of the resolve and decency of Our Generation, just as they did the war in Bosnia. They’re so vain, they think the conflict in Syria is about them.
Categories: Anti-War, Government, History, Imperialism, Imperialist War, International, Internet, Libya, Media & Culture, Statements, Syria, TV, U.S. News, United States History, World History, Yugoslavia