The Balkan Limits to Power and Principle

American foreign policy in the past century has frequently been shaped not by the realities confronted by diplomats and soldiers, but by an idealistic longing to remake the world in the United States’ own image. The first American attempt to do so in the Versailles Treaty ended in tragic failure. The supposedly moral peace that concluded Woodrow Wilson’s “war to end war” actually perpetuated injustice and set the stage for World War II. At the start of the twenty-first century, the moral imperative in U.S. foreign policy again compels American and allied troops to pursue idealistic goals in Bosnia and Kosovo long after the ideas that underpin those goals have become irrelevant and unattainable.

It is time to fix the problem with U.S. policy, not the blame. The United States and its allies must deal with the Balkans on terms its inhabitants understand and respect: power politics and fair agreements. All of the peoples who live on the territory of the former Yugoslavia deserve to survive and prosper within a just framework. But to create such a framework, the next president must understand that Europeans themselves, rather than Americans far removed from the context, must shape the path to regional stability…

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