Nineteen years ago we watched in horror as Ratko Mladic’s army of murderers rounded up the men and boys in Srebrenica and systematically slaughtered them. And when I say watched, I mean just that, since no side in the Bosnian conflict tried to prevent reporting of the slaughter in that little mountainous patch of earth. We watched as that French hero, General Philippe Morillon, leaped aboard a truck and left the surrounded Bosnians to their horrible fate with his ludicrous MacArthur-like declaration that he would return, when in fact he knew full well he was leaving these people to be raped and murdered. We watched as the craven Dutch UN force meekly laid down its arms in the face of overwhelming Serb firepower and then we finally realised what the words Safe Haven really meant. The UN safe havens in Bosnia had nothing to do with protecting innocent civilians, but everything to do with making sure that no UN personnel would feel threatened, from the magnificent warrior Morillon to the humblest Dutch private soldier.
The truth was, as we would come to understand in the following weeks, that the United nations cared not one jot for any of the victims who would be murdered by Mladic’s killers.
We saw it in the pathetic attempts to impose a no-fly zone, laughed at by Mladic as he patrolled his territory in his personal helicopter. We saw it in the UN’s endless bumbling engagement with Radovan Karadjic, the nominal Serb leader in Bosnia and a pathological liar, held in open contempt by Mladic.
We were horrified as we watched that army of the Bosnian Serbs rumble from Srebrenica to Zepa to Gorazde, raping and murdering as they went, in a well-rehearsed pattern of barbarity while the UN wrung its hands, while Karadjic continued to make and break promises and while we watched on television as village after village was destroyed and its inhabitants murdered.
Nobody did anything about it. Nobody did anything about the thugs on the hills overlooking Sarajevo bombarding the city and firing sniper rifles at innocent civilians, thus confirming Ratko Mladic’s belief that the international community had no stomach for a fight. Maggie O’Kane, writing for the Sunday Times, pointed out at the time that a single air strike against the artillery hiding in the mountains would have silenced the guns, but there was no political will for such an action, and so the slaughter continued. Mladic had the measure of his opponents and he saw them for the empty threat they were.
And so it came to pass that we, the world at large, stood acquiescent as Mladic’s forces – Milosevic’s proxy army – inflicted an obscenity on the people of Bosnia, while we did nothing about it.
Fast forward nearly twenty years and we see a force of no more than 30,000 men holding two countries by the jugular while overwhelmingly-powerful external forces stand paralysed. We watch helplessly as the proxy army of Saudi Arabia and Qatar murders thousands in the name of Wahhabism. We stand by and watch as this army of religious lunatics destroys one town after another.
We stand on the hill overlooking Kobane as these madmen prepare to slaughter thousands of innocent people and again we do nothing, just as we did nothing in Srebrenica.
It’s true that a tiny country such as ours can do very little to influence the war in Syria, but it also seems to be true that the victims of the IS madness are not that important to anyone else either. The US military spokesmen have all but shrugged their shoulders and admitted there’s nothing they can do, that air-strikes alone can make no difference to the outcome of the siege, even though it was their country’s actions that created IS in the first place.
But in the end, the fate of Kobane is in the hands of the Turkish government who would have, of course, the means to go in and extinguish the IS attack on Kobane in the blink of an eye if they wished. The Turks could crush any IS threat at their border, but that doesn’t fit in with their strategy of containing the Kurdish PKK, and it doesn’t fit in with Erdogan’s ambition to consolidate Turkey’s position as a regional super-power. He wants Assad gone, and if it costs the lives of a few thousand Kurds in Kobane, well, so what?
The really obscene aspect of this horrible situation at Kobane is that the PKK has long since ceased to be a threat to Turkey, since they abandoned their demands for an independent Kurdish state in favour of a loose affiliation of Kurdish regions across Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Erdogan has nothing to fear from the PKK, and yet his government won’t permit Turkish Kurds to go into Kobane in support of their cousins, in case their weapons might be used against Turkey in the future. Instead of seeing this crisis as an opportunity to reach a pragmatic rapprochement with the Kurds in order to fight a common enemy, Erdogan is regarding it as a threat, thereby guaranteeing another Srebrenica.
What of Turkey’s membership of NATO?
NATO will do nothing if Turkey isn’t attacked and despite its medieval veneer, IS is a highly sophisticated organisation that understands perfectly well when a sleeping bear should be poked and when it needs to be left alone. Contrary to popular perceptions, IS is not some ignorant Mujahideen rabble, but an extremely subtle political entity that knows when to lay the fundamentalism on thickly and when to ease off. It won’t surprise me in the slightest if the IS puppet-masters exterminate all the religious fundamentalists after they achieve their political goals.
In that regard, there’s really no difference between the Bosnian Serb murderers and the IS murderers. Both are extremely capable political machines, both are professionally led by highly-talented military commanders, and both make use of an extreme ideology as long as it remains expedient to do so. In the Serbs’ case, the ideology was nationalism, while IS prefers to adopt the religious delusion, but in the end, there’s no difference.
The Serbs gave us Srebrenica, which caused worldwide revulsion and now it seems IS is going to give us Kobane.
What are we going to do about it, apart from watching the slaughter on our televisions?
Maybe we should send for Philippe Morillon.