Jared Kushner Was Meant for the Balkans

Every time I think I’ve escaped a Trump story, Jared Kushner has to behave like Jared Kushner.

By Daniel Drezner, Professor of International Politics at The Fletcher School at Tufts University

The hard-working staff here at Drezner’s World has been learning a lot about the sociopolitical dynamics of Southeastern Europe while in Serbia for the past five days.1The Serbian affection for Vladimir Putin is definitely a thing. The resentment directed at the European Union is most definitely another thing. Serbia’s flirtation with the BRICS and simultaneous desire for better relations with the United States is worthy of further discussion. The memory politics of the Kosovo war and NATO bombing of Serbia is worth some serious ruminations. I mean, this kind of graffiti is all over Belgrade:

I promise to write up all of these points later in the week. For now, however, I need to process the fact that the 2024 U.S. presidential election is going to be a totalizing news event. One of the hidden perks of the post-Trump era had been that one did not need to check any social media feeds to learn what the one-term president said or did while we were, you know, living our lives. Even as the general election campaign was heating up back home, a trip to the Western Balkans surely seemed like a way to forestall U.S. political news for a spell. 

And then, of course, the New York Times’ Eric Lipton, Maggie Haberman, and Jonathan Swan had to ruin everything with about Jared Kushner, Ric Grenell, and their real estate plans for the Balkans:

Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Donald J. Trump, confirmed on Friday that he was closing in on major real estate deals in Albania and Serbia, the latest example of the former president’s family doing business abroad even as Mr. Trump seeks to return to the White House.

Mr. Kushner’s plans in the Balkans appear to have come about in part through relationships built while Mr. Trump was in office. Mr. Kushner, who was a senior White House official, said he had been working on the deals with Richard Grenell, who served briefly as acting director of national intelligence under Mr. Trump and also as ambassador to Germany and special envoy to the Balkans.

One of the proposed projects would be the development of an island off the coast of Albania into a luxury tourist destination.

A second — with a planned luxury hotel and 1,500 residential units and a museum — is in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, at the site of the long-vacant former headquarters of the Yugoslav Army destroyed in 1999 by the NATO bombings, according to a member of Parliament in Serbia and Mr. Kushner’s company.

I have only spent six days in the region, but I’d like to think I know a little something about: a) international affairs; and b) how Jared Kushner and Ric Grenell think. And I can assure you of the following points: 

  1. They believe using the spot of the NATO bombing to build a hotel would be a nifty feat of statecraft. There is a part of me that wishes that were true. The obvious problem is that the NATO bombing casts a long shadow in Belgrade, and I doubt that even a leader like Serbian leader Aleksandar Vučić can get Serbian public opinion to turn on a dime in response to the this kind of real estate development; 
  2. Jared Kushner absolutely believes that he has achieved everything in life on his own merits. He thinks those merits are significant. Of course, he also thinks that Israel’s assault on Gaza creates an opportunity because “Gaza’s waterfront property could be very valuable” and “it’s a little bit of an unfortunate situation there, but from Israel’s perspective I would do my best to move the people out and then clean it up.” That is… how to put this… emblematic of Kushner’s foreign policy acumen;
  3. Vučić would strongly prefer Trump to win in November in the hopes that it would improve his bargaining situation in Kosovo. So I would expect the Serbian government to string Kushner and Grenell along for as long as possible;
  4. It is honestly disturbing to see how well the Balkan mode of politics meshes with Trump acolytes. Little wonder that Kushner wants to do business here. 

That is all. 

1 One think I’ve learned: say “Southeastern Europe” on occasion rather than “Western Balkans” just to be on the safe side.

(This post is republished from Drezner’s World.)

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