Since the declaration of Kosovo's independence from Serbia on February 17, Arab commentators have been struggling to provide a reasonable analysis of why the Bush administration has decided to back the move of Kosovo's Albanian Muslims.

Until recently, the general feeling amongst analysts and observers was that Kosovo's declaration of independence was nothing more than a hollow threat and that the US was using the whole issue to pressure Russia to soften its opposition to a new UN security council resolution to tighten sanctions against Iran concerning its nuclear programme - a typical great power quid pro quo.

It turned out, however, that this analysis was out of touch with reality, causing confusion in Arab policy and intellectual circles. The US has decided to disregard Russia's opposition and went ahead with the plan to grant independence to the tiny Serbian province.

The big question that is being asked today by Arab and Muslim analysts is that why the US has risked a confrontation with Russia over Kosovo and what are the real interests of the US from supporting the independence of the Muslim province?

Given the anger in the Arab and Muslim world at US foreign policy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, one must admit that the US support for Kosovo's independence came as a shock to many in the region.

How come the "imperialist and the anti-Islam Bush administration" support the right to self-determination of a Muslim province against the will of a Christian government (Serbia in this case)?

There is in fact no easy answer to this question. All one can do is to try to provide a reasonable analysis that can help understand US policy towards the Balkan region.


Indeed, the ambiguous interests of the US in the Balkan region in the post-Cold War era must have confused analysts. US policy during the Cold War was driven almost exclusively by the great rivalry with the Soviet Union and involved recognisable national interests.

In the post-Cold War era, however, US interests in the Balkan were particularly unclear.

As a consequence, US policy was widely understood at least partly as being influenced by humanitarian motives - ethnic cleansing, mass killing, oppression, military rule, massive human rights violations and people torn by civil war, urging the international community to come to their rescue.

"For the United States ... what lies behind intervention in the Balkans ... was neither gold, nor glory, nor strategic calculation. It is, rather, sympathy. The televised pictures of displaced people in Bosnia and Kosovo created a political clamour to feed them, which propelled the US military into these distant parts of the world," a US academic wrote in the late 1999s.

Indeed, the George W. Bush administration must have been influenced by domestic sympathy to back the independence of Kosovo.

There are, however, more strategic calculations that might have molded the US decision to support the declaration of independence by the Muslim province.

The US may have sought to undermine Russia's credibility by exposing its failure to support a major ally - Serbia. The US may have also wanted to demonstrate that the new aggressiveness of President Vladimir Putin was mere rhetoric and that the endeavour of the Russian leader to win back the super-power status of his country was mere illusion.

Russia's powerlessness to do anything important to help its ally must have been very costly for the Russian leader, domestically at least. The Bush administration may have also intended to demonstrate that it does not have an anti-Islam policy.

The support of a Muslim country must have helped mitigate the anti-US sentiments in the Muslim world. Washington must have been thrilled to see the Muslim Albanians of Kosovo waving American flags during independence celebrations in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

Some have even carried posters of President Bush and chanted "Thank you, USA" and "God bless America." This could not have been achieved by any public relations campaign.

Dr Marwan Kabalan is a lecturer in Media and International Relations, Faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Damascus, Syria.