The USG has noticed that there's a need for vision and leadership in Europe, or more specifically, that there's some developments in the Balkans that will require those two qualities, which are in notoriously short supply in Europe. (That supply is at least as short as the USG attention span these days.)
Unfortunately, the USG routinely forgets that visions and leadership need to be implemented and realized, something at which the boring Europeans tend to be better than the fidgety Americans
But in the Balkans, the Europeans have been implementing and realizing piecemeal steps whose direction remain unclear. Nowhere is this more tangible than in Kosovo, a seemingly intractable problem the USG now woke up to -- again. In the diplomatic words of sources quoted by the Paris edition of the Times,
Some State Department officials acknowledged that the nearly intractable ethnic hatreds in the Balkans have been a side issue for the Bush administration, in part because of its concern about global terrorism.Be that as it may, the Times article seems to suggest that there's been some sort of U-turn in the Western approach. The deal so far was that Kosovo had to fully meet a number of conditions before talks would be opened. The Trib implies this is no longer the case:
Clinton administration officials, particularly former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, have suggested that the Bush administration was averse to trying to build on an achievement of the Clinton years, namely the bombing of Serbia and the setting up of Kosovo as a semi-independent protectorate.
[under secretary of state for political affairs R. Nicholas] Burns said the United States now favored discussing the future status of Kosovo simultaneously with improvements in its democratic standards, with the hope that the improvement can become an incentive for achieving independence.While it is not clear to me how “improvements in democratic standards” could become an “incentive for achieving independence” if the two are explicitly uncoupled from one another -- if this were the key concern of the policy, then why not just stick to outright conditionality? -- it does seem to me that this is a more sensible approach, and in fact one that has gradually been taking shape.
He said the aim was to settle Kosovo's status by the end of 2005.
An editorialist at Transitions Online agrees, in an excellent piece posted today. Money quote:
Explicit linking of progress on security, human rights, and democracy with the status issue was always wrong. Kosovo needed to become stable, tolerant, and democratic regardless of its status. In other words, human rights, security, and democracy should always have been presented as non-negotiable and separate from the status question. By making them part of the status issue, the international community injected an element of bargaining into its Kosovo enterprise. By the same token, whatever status Kosovo gains in the end, that status should stem from considerations wider than the current situation in the territory.
In any case, not all Europeans are going to be amused. As a (European) pal of mine put it none too delicately, though thankfully in French, the Europeans "se font à nouveau enculer."