“Thank god for the Serbians”. Rancher Juan Jimenez was ecstatic, standing with hundreds in the main square of El Paso, the tiny capital of South Texas, which today declared its independence from the United States. Originally part of Mexico, and with a forty per cent Hispanic population, majority use of Spanish and distinct historical and cultural traditions much closer to Mexico than anything north of the former US-Mexico border, people like Juan have long sought to assert their independence. Washington had other ideas, insisting that the Hispanic South Texans continue to speak an alien language, and live under the rule of a people they have been at war with more than once.

But they reckoned without Serbia. This stalwart part of the new Europe wasn’t having any nonsense about “national sovereignty” or a “purely internal US affair”. It warned the US in no uncertain terms that if it continued to interfere with the rights of the South Texicans-Mexicans to break off at any time and place they chose, it would unleash thousands of Serbian irregulars from fighting towns such as Pyrpkvyrk, Blbgblyg and Vrp across the border, the mere reporting of whose names would lead to such a critical vowel shortage in the US that the very language itself would collapse. Emboldened, the South Texans, who have subsisted on little but hope and foreign military forces, declared their immediate autonomy as a proud and utterly uneconomic separate country, living on nothing but their dreams and billions in Serbian and Russian subsidies.

“The South Texans are now free to determine their own destinies for themselves” said General Chypschott, part of the Yugoslav Interim Control and Emancipation Squad (YIKES), overseeing Mexican-American affairs in the region.

“Unless someone else wants to secede from them, at which point the whole process begins again. But really all we’re doing is establishing an utterly dependent client pseudo-state in the heart of American territory. It’s really nothing to worry about.”

No? Not credible? I can’t think of much else that would bring home the full craziness to Americans of their involvement in the messy politics of the Balkans. I mean it’s not as if a world war began out of great power posturing in the place or anything. For a country whose self-image has been battered by the disaster of Iraq – as even much of the left here can’t bring themselves to hope for a punishing and educative American expulsion – Kosovo has been the “good intervention” just as WW2 got reinvented as “the good war” fought by the “greatest generation” after the moral confusion of Vietnam and the 60s.

It was, after all, a Clinton war, and the Kosovans had gained a phalanx of liberal defenders who constructed them as a sort of Balkan Tibet, with Serbia once again playing the role of sub-human pig-men, a reliable enemy everyone could hate. Much of the enthusiasm for the Kosovo intervention, a place where massacres were being committed by both sides and the deaths were in four figures, was in fact a displacement of guilt over inaction in Rwanda, where there had been an arguable case for intervention. Kosovo was the curtain-raiser for the full doctrine of “military humanitarianism”, which would come into full, dark flower in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Thus, a great deal of the support for a continuing US role comes not from the hard right, but from the “military humanitarian” centre-left-right, with Hillary Clinton applauding the move, and the entry of a new nation (Kosova) into the “Euro-Atlantic” community. McCain had beaten her to the punch, coming out in favour of Kosovan independence about a fortnight ago. Indeed McCain has gone further. In 2006 he travelled to South Ossetia, a breakaway province of Georgia, which is claiming independence with Russian backing, and gave his support to their aspirations to be independent or part of Russia.

Such shenanigans are based on a cartoonish view of the US as a defender of freedom and self-determination, but they are also bizarrely time-shifted – a relic of that very short period between the USSR break-up and the rise of China and Russia in the last few years, when it could be believed that the American titan could simply stoop to conquer and ‘put the world to rights’ – ie assemble little fiefdoms in strategically important positions, such as Kurdistan or ‘Israel the second’, as some Turks call it.

It is thus very interesting that Barack Obama’s statement on the matter is so circumspect – simply noting that Kosovo’s independence is a matter of fact, and, even more interestingly, arguing that the situation is a unique one, which cannot be assimilated to more general frameworks.

That strikes me as a major repudiation of the military humanitarian doctrine, drawing on the prudential notion that each foreign policy political question has to be taken on its own terms, not as part of some grand narrative by which westerners can feel better about themselves by picking sides elsewhere. There seems to be no reason why he would not be sincere about this – although of course its political role is as a platform to attack Hillary over her effective continuation of the Clinton doctrine.

Even more interestingly, one of his advisors has been Samantha Powers, author of A Problem From hell and self-proclaimed ‘genocide chick’ who says her interest in the subject was initiated by photos from the Bosnian war. One could have therefore expected something a bit more tub-thumping about genocide, human rights etc

The point is that if — if – Obama’s statement indicates anything more than circumspection, it is evidence of the most major policy difference between the Democratic candidates so far, and one that puts Clinton and McCain essentially on one side, and Obama on the other – as far as the general projection of US power goes.

With or without the Slavo-Mexican republic of South Texas, it seems a message more Americans are starting to get – if only because the spectacle of a continent-size country trying to determine the national sovereignty of each valley in the Caucus is looking increasingly ridiculous, and more to do with the projection of domestic conflicts into international affairs than any clear-headed foreign policy.

But ‘Bama will probably go get elected and then occupy North Africa…

Peter Fray

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