Almost every conversation emphasized the need for U.S.—not European—leadership. Below is a selection of comments from respondents in the region:
“What kept me and the majority of the population of Kosovo going forward from 1990 to 1999 was the pursuit of liberty and achieving peace. We were inspired by U.S. ideology.” Member of Parliament, Kosovo.
“The problem is that the U.S. feels this is an EU agenda, but they are very slow,” says one Government official from Mitrovica, Kosovo, in regards to helping Kosovo move from newborn status to a functioning adult democracy.
“Kosovo could have been the success story of a U.S. intervention over the past 20 years but they did not see it through—typical for U.S. foreign policy. And this has put the country and region in limbo.” Former politician and member of a prominent independent media
“The U.S. was visible in the past with public statements made by ambassadors but now it seems that U.S. interest has disappeared and there is no positive movement.” Member of Committee of EU integration from Kosovo
“The U.S. funds anti-corruption groups [in Croatia] but they have to be more critical of the government.” NGO in Croatia
“The U.S. is not sensitive but efficient. The E.U. is sensitive but not efficient.” High-ranking official in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The U.S. has withdrawn from the region.” Executive of NGO in Serbia.
“The U.S. should push for rule of law, help build new institutions as they have been hollowed out from inside. If the US does not reengage with Serbia and the region, the region might become unstable. The U.S. under Obama has been much less present in region.” NGO in Serbia.
“The U.S. can be helpful in pushing BiH toward the EU and helping understand the proper mix of people to support federalism. However, the U.S. continues to insist on citizen principle.” Former President of Croatia, Ivo Josipovic, about the United States pushing for a unified Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Many people in these countries are calling for an enhanced U.S. presence in political leadership and economic support. Yet, total U.S. aid to these four countries is a third of what is was prior to the attacks of September 11, 2001.
It is understandable why Washington wants to pull back. With limited bandwidth and resources—and crises like the fight against the Islamic State group and Russia’s thwarting of international norms—it is understandable that a region ensconced in Europe and at peace would not receive attention. Yet, it is precisely for this reason that it warrants increased involvement.
Trumped up claims? A mural in New Belgrade, Serbia, in December 2016. [i]
U.S credibility abroad is low. The decisions that Washington made regarding Libya and Syria are casting doubt on the ability of the White House and State Department to handle foreign crises. Two decades ago, the United States led negotiations and an air campaign in pursuit of peace in BiH and Kosovo respectively, both of which were widely considered success stories. Today that success threatens to unravel. The region is at a dangerous crossroads and, as multiple people have told us, is threatening to “implode.”
It will take effort from the United States to guide the region on the path toward liberal democracy and open markets. Yet, a solid base exists in terms of education, geography, and connectivity. Serbia ranks 4th of 76 countries in business English, and across the region the young population is well-educated and multilingual.[ii] All four countries boast literacy rates near 100 percent**. Flights to Vienna last less than an hour, underscoring both the opportunity that comes from proximity as well as the need for concern about the region’s security.
 See USAID data on pages 15-17.
** See infographics on page 14
[i] Putin and Trump mural in Belgrade; Kosovo connects Trump and Putin: Mural appeared in New Belgrade. (2016, December). Retrieved March 01, 2017, from http://www.telegraf.rs/english/2500358-kosovo-connects-trump-and-putin-mural-appeared-in-new-belgrade
[ii] English language proficiency in Serbia; GlobalEnglish Business English Index Reveals Skills Shortage and Unequal Odds for International Business Success in 2012. (n.d.). Retrieved February 16, 2017, from http://www.globalenglish.com/company/press/releases/757