Elisabeth Maragoula
(European Union Affairs Editor)

Copyright: www.neurope.eu

Which presidential hopeful will best lead the US into a new era will not necessarily be the best for its foreign policy in the Balkans. The US has maintained hegemonic policy in the Balkans throughout the 1990’s, fueling turmoil, and just recently supported another break-up in the region - Kosovo’s independence. Conservative Republican John McCain and Democratic heavyweight Hillary Rodham Clinton, both with a track record in US foreign policy, would likely continue the same policy, while, newcomer and Democratic candidate Barack Obama could likely be more questioning.

Obama is “negotiating a better way, using diplomacy,” John Nomikos, director of the Athens-based Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS), told New Europe. For example, when asked to take a stand on the Balkans, Cyprus or FYROM, Obama would look at the issue from the beginning, he explained. The US follows a pro-Albanian course of policy. McCain “won’t bring something different to the United States,” Nomikos explained. McCain has support from the Albanian lobby, he added.

Clinton has an obvious connection to an administration with a well-known track record in the Balkans. Her husband, and former US president, Bill Clinton, led the 78-day NATO bombing campaign in 1999 to end the war in Kosovo - Serbia’s former southernmost province. His popularity among ethnic Albanians is evident - just take Pristina’s “Bill Clinton Boulevard” for example.

There is a fear that Hillary could bring a “blast of stale air” from the 1990s, James Jatras, director of the Washington D.C.- based American Council for Kosovo, told New Europe.

But Obama is new to the game. “In the case of Barack, perhaps there won’t be a change (in US foreign policy in the Balkans) per se; however, there will be room for talks and lobbying,” explained Ksenija Pavlovic, a specialist on US politics and MSc in European Identities from the London School of Economics. Today, the Kosovo case is a perfect testing ground for just how well these three would fair in Balkan politicking. The issue has already pitted EU states against one another and big shot Russia against the US.

To most Americans, Kosovo was an unknown until 1999. Nine years later, to the surprise of most Americans, this tiny landlocked territory has again dominated news headlines. Last month, the US endorsed the addition of Kosovo to the world map of states. McCain and Clinton supported the move. They both released statements welcoming the new state and urging the international community to follow suit.

“Today, for the first time, the region is poised to move forward. The people of Kosovo should be commended for the great strides they have made and the bright future that lies ahead,” McCain said in a statement.

In line with current US policy, McCain took an authoritarian stance, warning Serbia not to overreact to Kosovo’s move. Clinton went so far as calling the new state Kosova - the name used by the territory’s 90-percent-strong ethnic Albanian majority. “This is a historic step that will allow the people of Kosova to finally live in their own democratic state,” she wrote.

Demonstrating a more interventionist tendency, Clinton criticised the Bush Administration for not paying the Balkans the attention they deserve. “This has helped contribute to the complicated and risky situation on the ground in the Balkans that we still face today,” she wrote.

Obama sang a slightly different tune. He did not welcome the declaration nor lobby for other states to mirror US policy. Instead, he was sceptical. “Kosovo’s independence is a unique situation resulting from the irreparable rupture Slobodan Milosevic’s actions caused; it is in no way a precedent for anyone else in the region or around the world,” he said in a statement posted on a blog on his campaign website.

Obama addressed the Serbs in a sympathetic light - something not often practiced by the US adminstration. “Serbia and its people have also suffered terribly over the past two decades. Serbs deserve a more peaceful, prosperous, and hopeful future,” the statement said.

The birth of global controversies in the Balkans is nothing new. The US’ current policy of cowboy diplomacy - certainty in forging ahead - could further damage its relations with Balkan states and those opposing Kosovo’s independence, such as Russia. Issues specific to this region should be approached with a grain of salt, because history tells they are anything but cut and dry. Who may be the most experienced or best for US foreign policy in general may not be the best for the Balkans, where nothing is certain.

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