What’s in Albright’s Attic? Dear, oh dear! I wonder what happened to Walter Isaacson’s researchers. Could it be that Time Warner and Ted Turner are turning into scrooges? Or is it simply a case of Walter baby letting sleeping dogs lie to continue to enjoy access to Madeleine’s boudoir for as long as she remains secretary of state?
Last week’s Time cover story on Madeleine Notsobright included many personal details except for the most embarrassing: A wealthy Austrian family has issued an ultimatum to Madeleine Albright and her relatives demanding they return “millions of dollars’ worth of war booty allegedly taken from their apartment in Prague after World War II,” according to the May 6 Jewish Forward. Now before I go on, I have to declare an interest. The Austrian family that is about to sue our Madeleine is known to me, and one of their brothers-in-law is a very good friend. Also, my wife happens to be an Austrian, one of those Austrians who owned large parts of Czechoslovakia, as it happens. I am talking about the kind of Austrians Hitler was not very keen on, those with ancient titles and castles in romantic settings. To a man they were all sent to the Russian front where most of them perished.
This is the kind of family that is suing the first-ever woman and second Jew to hold the high office of State. Philip Harmer is the present head of the well-to-do family of former Austrian industrialists and landowners. The Harmers claim that Mrs. Albright’s father, Josef Korbel, “took up residence with his daughter Madeleine and the rest of his family in our Prague apartment at 11 Hradsanke Street…” in 1945. No one ever claimed that the Harmers had anything to do with the Nazis, but the anti-German/Austrian climate at the time was so virulent the family had no option but to leave Prague (essentially a German city up to the middle of the 19th century), their birthplace.
Shortly afterward, Madeleine’s daddy is believed to have expropriated the Harmers’ paintings—20 17th-century Dutch masters—antique furniture and silver. Korbel did this in a very, shall we say, Swiss manner. The treasures had been moved for safekeeping to a place owned by the Swiss embassy in Prague, where a Harmer great-aunt, Swiss by marriage, was living. When Korbel saw the bare patches on the wall of the apartment where the paintings had been hanging he “demanded that the housekeepers tell him where they were. He then went round to my great-aunt’s flat and removed them,” says Harmer.
It gets worse. When Madeleine’s father was posted to Belgrade as a Czech diplomat in 1946, he took along his family as well as the Harmer family’s treasures. He then shifted the paintings and silver to London in a diplomatic bag, escaping any examination by customs. The “loot” eventually arrived in America, and Harmer is convinced several of the artworks are in the homes of Mrs. Albright’s younger brother John Korbel, of Arlington, VA, and her sister Kathy. Harmer initiated a cordial correspondence with the Korbels but his claims were rebuffed.
He now says that he has important evidence concerning the whereabouts of some of the artworks. It was supplied by journalist Michael Dobbs of The Washington Post, who is due to publish a biography of the Secretary of State. Dobbs interviewed Madeleine’s brother at his home and was able to identify two of the paintings.
In fairness, Madeleine’s family has yet to tell its side of the story, so even I, a Clinton and Notsobright hater, should give them the benefit of the doubt, at least for the time being. What bothers me is that the people who are accusing the Korbel family of having looted their art are as honest as the day is long. The Harmers are neither hustlers nor opportunists—to the contrary.
What bothers me even more is that the American media has chosen to ignore the charges, something the British press has not. The only American newspaper to publish them without comment was The Jewish Forward, a significant fact.
“Top Drawer” has hardly been friendly to Madeleine, and we are ferociously opposed to “Meddling’s War,” but my “J’Accuse” has nothing to do with it. It is fine to relish donning bomber jackets and waging war against a small European nation; it is fine to lack foreign policy vision, which got us into this mess, and contingency plans for getting us out of it; it is fine to lie and spin the facts and tell us that NATO had to attack the Serbs because Milosevic refused to negotiate over Kosovo. (There was no negotiation. Albright demanded Yugoslavia allow 30,000 NATO troops to occupy the country and to oversee an independent Kosovo within three years.) It is even fine to pretend the depopulation of Kosovo began before the bombing.
What is not fine is to be discovered to be dishonest and to have kept stolen property. Not when you occupy the chair of Henry Kissinger, Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles and George C. Marshall. And not when your government has been so active in seeking the return of property stolen from other European Jews not fortunate enough, like your father, to escape to the United States. Philip Harmer had this to say: “I cannot believe the Secretary of State of the United States and her brother and sister enjoy eating with my family’s silver while surrounded by my family’s paintings and furniture.” I say if she had a scintilla of shame or decency she would have resigned over this alone.
Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia
The Lament of a Princess
I must criticize the Serbs. There are about one million of them in this country and they do not have any effective lobby. Neither do they employ a powerful public relations agency. Perhaps now after the destruction of Yugoslavia they will, for the first time, discover some form of unity. I am grateful for that.
I used to think that, because the Albanians had a powerful and influential lobby in Washington and were long established in businesses in the States, the Serbs would follow suit. The Croatians hired a highly respected p.r. firm and learned, early on, the importance of good p.r. in this country.
The Serbs for some reason or other never thought along these lines. Three years ago, for the first time, there was a strong show of unity in Belgrade when everyone marched for six weeks, night and day. The people were euphoric in their love for one another and were excited that finally they could make a difference. Blue jeans and rock ‘n’ roll and McDonald’s! They couldn’t get enough of them. Now America and the West would notice them, come to their rescue and give the opposition parties a chance against Milosevic’s government machine.
But they didn’t. Nobody paid the slightest attention, and this huge effort just faded into the mists of an early spring morning. Who knows, perhaps different voices could have brought about different circumstances. Small countries love and admire big countries, but I learned, over the years, that big countries do not have friends, they only have interests. The steel trap of Communism slammed shut on Yugoslavia soon after the Nazis invaded in 1941, and for 50 years they lived as a nation that never reached maturity, never developed along normal lines.
My father, Prince Paul, was the last democratic and constitutional leader, but he was thrown out of office in 1941 by some ambitious Serb generals, financed by Britain. Subsequently, the country was completely shattered by the German Luftwaffe and then overrun by the Wehrmacht in 10 days. Meanwhile, Tito was waiting in the shadows and was able to gain control. It was not because of his efforts in fighting the Nazis or his popularity, but because of behind-the-scenes machinations on the part of the British Foreign Office and the Soviet Union. Strange bedfellows, one might think. But the British thought it was in their interest to please Stalin in this way, and did everything they could to help Tito gain power.
Another wave of terror took over after the Nazis left, and Tito’s secret police were just as strict as the KGB. All religions were forbidden and human rights were obliterated. Families were torn apart, human dignity was wiped out and traditions mocked. Vestiges of the past remained, and I know of people who crept into church at 4 a.m. to get married by a priest. To this day, when I meet Serbs either here or in Yugoslavia, they very often speak in whispers in case someone is listening—someone who could turn them in for being open and frank and for telling the truth.
The Serbs have always been fighters and defenders of their faith and territory, and it is hard for people like this to be pushed into a corner and given an ultimatum. They were invited by the Austrians to settle in parts of Croatia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) to protect the locals against any possible Turkish invasion. In every legal sense their land belonged to them.
Then, four years ago, with the help of the West, hundreds of thousands of Serbs, who had lived in Croatia for more than 400 years, were brutally and mercilessly evicted from their homes in a few days. The refugees were herded into camps in Serbia, where they now languish. Again nobody cared. Most farsighted people knew that Kosovo would be the next bonfire to happen after Dayton, so this could have been prevented. Earlier this century, the West could have backed an alternative in Germany, and millions of people could also have been saved. Now, the horrors in Kosovo and in the rest of Yugoslavia are beyond description and the children, most of all, are suffering trauma, exile and famine. Some are on the run and some, on the other hand, are stuck in Serbia because they come from mixed marriages.
NATO will surely bomb other innocent victims by mistake, and nobody will ever tell us how many have died. This is a no-win situation for everyone at this point. Many more innocent civilians are now being killed in Yugoslavia by NATO planes. The NATO countries are enraged at being defied, so they have to win or lose face.
The one positive thing to come out of this horrible mess is that Serbs will finally be united, and may, finally, have their own lobby in Washington—and retain a decent p.r. firm.
I’m in a love triangle with Mick Jagger—again. Two weeks ago a girl I’d been pursuing for a couple of months finally kissed me in a bar. In addition to being a sexy, dark-skinned beauty, she’s difficult, complicated and something of a handful. In other words, totally irresistible. I couldn’t believe my luck and, as it turned out, I was right. A couple of days later she gave me the bad news: She was involved with another man. He was a bit of a playboy, apparently, but all his friends assured her he was completely besotted. In fact, they’d never seen him like this with anyone before. So she was flying to London to spend some time with him. Maybe, if things didn’t work out, she’d call me.
I found out the following day it was Jagger.
This is the second time I’ve lost a woman to the 55-year-old Rolling Stone and, frankly, I’m getting a little tired of it. To lose one woman to Mick Jagger may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness.
To tell the truth, the first time it happened I felt rather flattered. The woman in question was a gorgeous Chilean girl known—inevitably—as the Red Hot Chile Pepper. Okay, I didn’t like being dumped for a married father-of-six but it did mean I was only two degrees of separation from some of the most beautiful women in the world. It was like a rite of passage. I might have lost the game but I was playing in the big leagues now.
The second time around, it’s not so much fun. Thirty years ago, when Mick Jagger was still the Satanic Prince of the counterculture, I might have understood. But he’s a grandfather now, for heaven’s sakes. What do women see in him? With his spindly little legs, oversized head and enormous, Negroid lips he looks like a badly drawn caricature. He has the face of a mummified horse.
He also exhibits all the “bad” masculine traits that feminists have trained us to deplore. The girl I like has just flown to London to be with him, even
though the Brazilian model who’s carrying his love child has just flown to New York. The term “love rat” doesn’t begin to do him justice. He’s the Bill Clinton of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Yet women find him absolutely irresistible. What’s going on?
Part of it, no doubt, is his considerable wealth. In addition to his estate in Richmond, he owns houses in the Loire Valley, the Hollywood hills, Mustique and New York. According to the London Sunday Times, which produces an annual list of the 1000 richest people in Britain, he’s worth £150 million. That kind of money is guaranteed to impress even the most jaded supermodel.
There’s also his image to contend with. Somehow, in spite of being the most commercially minded rock ‘n’ roll figure since Colonel Tom Parker, Jagger has managed to cling to his cool reputation. No one could seriously describe him as a rebel, but some small, vestigial part of him remains untamed. As a result, he’s as welcome in the Bowery as he is in the stately homes of England.
Above all, there’s his sexuality. Jagger’s hallmark as a performer has always been his pansexual eroticism. He has the louche manner of a jailhouse slut, the pouting coquettishness of a sex kitten, yet he’s always been unmistakably heterosexual. He’s able to incorporate aspects of feminine sexuality into his persona without seeming homosexual; he’s camp without being a sissy. For some reason, women are powerless to resist this combination.
All this is complemented, of course, by his allegedly superhuman powers as a lover. You’d assume that his years of substance abuse would have taken their toll on his virility. Not a bit of it, apparently. When I asked his most recent conquest what on Earth she saw in him, she told me he was the best lay she’d ever had.
“He’s got the most incredible stamina,” she panted. “We’re talking five times a night.”
“He must be on Viagra,” I replied confidently.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “The only things he takes are vitamins.” Whatever those vitamins are, I’d like to get hold of some.
I should point out here that I only have this woman’s say so for any of this. It’s possible that she was making it all up to spare my feelings. After all, if you’re going to be passed over by a woman, it might as well be for the world’s most notorious shagger. I would have felt a lot worse if she’d told me she was rejecting me for Harold Evans.
However, I’m inclined to believe she’s telling the truth. Given the kind of life she leads, their paths would certainly overlap and, from what I know of him, she’s very much his type. She’s well-born, independently wealthy and a member of the jet set. The chances of her selling her story to the tabloids are pretty remote.
So, Jerry, if you’re reading this, I’d call your divorce lawyer without delay. At this very moment, he’s probably shacked up at Brown’s Hotel with my friend, throwing money away on baubles and champagne. Do I have to draw you a diagram? If I were you, I’d start proceedings straightaway and screw the bastard for as much as you can get.
THE TIRED HEDONIST
Talk of the Town
Ais a very subjective thing. Ya know wad ahm sayin? Take Noo Yawkese. It strikes my ear, accustomed to the gentler accents of the Virginia piedmont where I grew up, like an ice pick. H.L. Mencken felt the same way. Mencken deemed locutions like ”toity-toid and toid” vulgar and repellent. But to George Bernard Shaw, the ubiquitous oi sound of Noo Yawkese was aural balm, “the ultimate in sophistication in human speech.”
The odd thing about New York is that, unlike London or Paris, it has no upper-class accent of its own. The Gotham aristocracy—I use the term loosel —have traditionally borrowed the diction of the New England Brahmins, broadening their a’s to absurd lengths: Baaah Haabah. Who has the most refined version of this accent? Some years ago, New York initially nominated William F. Buckley Jr., but then gave the laurels to George Plimpton for his upper-class honk, on the grounds that Mr. Buckley “goes a bit far.” This prompted a letter from Buckley averring that it is not he but Mr. Plimpton who “goes a bit far.” I have no idea what they were talking about.
Other patrician New York figures, like Michael M. Thomas, deliver their vowels in a manner that is suggestive less of honking than of barking (although this may be due to Mr. Thomas’ slightly canine physiognomy). Still others, like Ronald Lauder, talk like truck drivers.
My own nomination for Best Gotham Accent-Male and Best Gotham Accent-Female would go to the director Mike Nichols and the city commissioner/socialite Amanda Burden. Nichols’ accent manages to be patrician without having a trace of that awful New England broadness; his syllables are nimbly delivered, and his phonemes ooze irony and droll resignation. (If I were giving elocution lessons, I think I would use those Mike Nichols-Elaine May comedy recordings from the early 60s.) Burden’s accent is dulcet and unaffectedly urbane, and—thanks to her mother, the great beauty Babe Paley—in no way indebted to the Boston Brahmins. And the Best Low-Class New York Accent? That would have to go to Tweety Bird.
As for the English accents, they can be found in greater abundance and variety in New York than in England itself. The classic Bloomsbury accent, for example, has gone completely extinct in London, but an impressive specimen of it is still preserved in Manhattan in the possession of Inigo Thomas, an editor at George.
Some Englishmen who seek their fortunes in America find that their home accents grow richer and fruitier on these shores. Others try to shed their accents and speak American—usually with disastrous results. The former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan had a perfectly nice suburban London accent when he first came to the United States; but he wanted to become a fully assimilated Yank and now the poor guy’s weirdly diphthongized vowels seem to be permanently stuck somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, where they ought to be allowed to sink.
English accents may confer prestige in New York, but are they sexy? New York men I have canvassed say they find an English accent on a woman’s lips a slight erotic plus. New York women apparently feel the same way about English men (Anthony Haden-Guest excepted), though none of them report fantasies of being ravished by a BBC announcer. Oddly, gay men in New York have told me that their lust invariably shrivels in the face of an English accent. I have no data for lesbians.
When I came to New York from Virginia some decades ago, I had a slight Southern drawl; when I said pen, it tended to sound like “pin,” and my thing could be mistaken for “thang.” I wondered whether I would also pick up elements of Noo Yawkese. Would I go to woik, have cawfee and head to the terlet? Nothing of the sort happened. I have ended up with one of those bland Mid-Atlantic accents that is entirely ungraced by regional color, and I doubt any would-be Professor Higgins could tell where I hail from.
The reason is that nobody really talks Noo Yawkese anymore—no one, that is, outside of a few vestigial white working-class neighborhoods and the ranks of New York’s Foinest (i.e., the police). Noo Yawkese was an Irish-Italian-Jewish-German creation. Blacks have never spoken it, and the newer immigrants to the city, especially Hispanics and Chinese, have an incompatible set of phonemes. And, because of its negative prestige, it is not a dialect that travels.
This city’s sole linguistic gift to the rest of the world, I’m afraid, may well turn out to be that miserable little ejaculation, Yo! Trying to put a good face on it, The New York Times once called yo “the most welcoming syllable in all spoken speech.” Where did yo come from? Some linguists have observed that in Spanish yo means “I,” which would make the expression a raw form of ego-assertion. Others claim it is a shortening of the Southern Italian immigrant’s greeting Guaglione! (guahl-YO-nay), which translates more or less as Dude! But I prefer to believe that yo is an underclass inversion of an altogether more civilized and good-humored New York interjection: Oy!
THE LONDON DESK
Imagine, if you can, a president of the United States who, knowing that there were elements in the South and in California who disliked Washington, tried to soothe them by setting up regional assemblies in Atlanta and Los Angeles; assemblies in which, old memories being stirred, there will soon be calls for independence. Imagine that, at the same time, the president abolished the Senate, because its politics were usually not his. Meanwhile, he plans to subsume the United States into a Pan-American union, ruled by bureaucrats in Mexico City and with a parliament in Rio. For good measure, he sells off half the contents of Fort Knox, partly because he regards gold as old-fashioned stuff, partly to prepare the dollar for swallowing up by the People’s Peso.
A few eyebrows would be raised? The ghosts of Lincoln and Davy Crockett invoked? And yet Prime Minister Tony Blair is doing not dissimilar things in Britain against a background of only quite mild dissent.
The reason he can do it, of course, is that Britain famously has no written constitution. Schoolchildren used to be taught that this lack—that Britain had no need of such scraps of paper—was a matter for pride. But it was assumed in those days that most Britons regarded their historic institutions with affection and respect—or, at the very least, knew that if something ain’t broke, you shouldn’t fix it.
The first Scottish and Welsh regional elections have just been held, with inconclusive results rendered more complex by a system of proportional representation. The Labor Party did well but not very well, the Scottish and Welsh nationalists did reasonably well but not as well as they’d hoped and the conservatives did marginally better than at the last disastrous general election; thus enabling all parties, as usual, to preen a little.
The most obvious short-term winner is apathy; the turn-outs were very low—which rather undermines the notion that the Scots and Welsh were seething with desire for a separate political entity. The long-term winners are politicians and bureaucrats who will now multiply like bugs in June, at the taxpayers’ expense. Unresolved questions about the relationship of the new assemblies to Westminster, and about who is subsidizing whom, will cause increasing friction and possible demands (of which Blair quite approves) for separate English regional assemblies. Whereupon the busy political class will be busier, and more affluent, than ever.
It might seem paradoxical that the Blair government should encourage local nationalisms in this way while seeking to merge the British nation as a whole into the supranationalism of Europe. But then the Europe of the future is not to be a Europe des patries, as Gen. de Gaulle envisioned, but a federal Europe with regions, into which Scotland and Wales, and other parts of what used to be the United Kingdom, could fit readily enough, each hoping to collect an appropriate subsidy.
The political class, not the electorate, has been, all along, the driving force behind Britain’s entry into Europe. The voters were told originally that they were going into a harmless, obviously beneficial, Common Market, which would entail no loss of sovereignty. This was transformed, without a by-your-leave, into the European Economic Community, then the European Community and now the European Union. And it’s too late, too economically dangerous, the voters are told, to pull out now. We must go on, says Blair, into “the heart of Europe.”
As for the House of Lords, whose hereditary members Blair is in the process of expelling, there was absolutely no popular demand for change. On the contrary, as the reputation of the Commons has declined, the reputation of the Lords, where serious questions are debated courteously, has flourished. The latest instance was a government-sponsored bill to bring the legal age of consent for homosexual activities down to 16. A huge majority in the country regards this proposal with distaste, as a pedophiles’ charter. The Commons obediently nodded it through. Only the Lords are standing, while they can, against it.
What sort of upper house does Blair want? An elected senate? Unacceptable, because it would challenge the dictatorial power of the Commons. An appointed assembly, a bunch of placemen, crawlers, cronies, local bosses and fashionable thinkers? Probably. A mishmash of the two? Possibly. But Blair never stopped to say. As with his “progressives’ war” in Kosovo, it was taking newsworthy action against the enemy—the hereditaries—not the outcome, which excited him.
Like Clinton, he had the good fortune to inherit from his opponents a thriving economy and the good sense not to wreck it with economic measures too flagrantly ideological. The electorate thus remains free to enjoy substantial prosperity, careless of the seismic constitutional changes being wrought in its name. During the 60s an embittered commentator said that Britain was sinking, giggling, into the sea. This is not true today. The British have become too cynical, too disillusioned, too resigned. They are not giggling. But they would rather discuss the mysterious murder of Jill Dando, a favorite tv presenter, than the future of Europe or the structure of Parliament; which is a perfectly sensible choice if Caesar Blair could be trusted to think wisely about the things that are Caesar’s.
Augustus did indeed transform the constitution of ancient Rome, while persuading the people that he wasn’t really changing anything important, just putting things right. And it turned out rather well. I didn’t know Augustus, but I feel confident in saying: “Mr. Blair, you’re no Caesar Augustus.”
Clinton’s War Crimes
“If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.” So said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, The New York Times, Feb. 22, 1998.
It may be unfair to single out Albright, then contemplating bombs over Baghdad, not Belgrade. Her qualities of mind permeate the entire Clinton administration, and are expressed with equal zeal in the neoconservative Weekly Standard and the liberal New Republic. As the NATO campaign against Yugoslavia enters its ninth week it is worth asking where this attitude has led the United States.
Clinton apologized for bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, though it was instructive to see the Beltway press warriors rail against Beijing’s “orchestrated” anti-American demonstrations. Chinese-Americans I know contrasted the demos with Clinton’s response after two American embassies were bombed last summer: He fired off volleys of cruise missiles into the Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Two weeks ago Washington finally acknowledged that one target it destroyed, a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, had no connection to Osama bin Laden, the accused terrorist Clinton wanted to punish. Another intelligence booboo, and what a shame for the people who worked there.
At any rate, we have apologized to the Chinese. The same day the U.S. bombed their embassy, NATO planes hit a marketplace and a hospital in the city of Nis, in southern Serbia, with antipersonnel cluster bombs, killing 15 and wounding 70. No apologies were tendered.
But as bombing from 15,000 feet, firing cruise missiles from afar and hectoring nations who fail to appreciate that we understand better than they how to manage their internal affairs have become the hallmarks of the Clinton foreign policy, they have begun to attract more critical attention.
In a stunning column in the May 7 London Times, Simon Jenkins surveyed the damage NATO strikes have done to historic sites in Serbia and Kosovo. Gen. Wesley Clark’s bombers have destroyed the Banovina Palace in the city center of Novi Sad, the finest work of art deco architecture in the Balkans. They have battered the old city of Pec, destroying a picturesque grouping of old markets and Turkish fortified houses dating from the Ottoman period. They have ruined the old trade center in nearby Djakovica and damaged the 16th-century Hadum Mosque there. They have destroyed the medieval Vrsac Tower near the Romanian border, and the 18th-century Tabacki Bridge. NATO planes have bombed repeatedly around the renowned medieval church of Gracanica near Pristina, its walls covered with 14th- and 15th-century frescoes. Deep fissures are now reported in the frescoes, which are detaching from the walls.
In Belgrade, the 16th-century Rakovica monastery has taken a hit through its roof; in Kursumlija, Clinton’s bombs have struck the churches of the Virgin and St. Nicholas, dating from the 12th century, as well as St. Procopius’ ninth-century church in Prokuplje. As Jenkins points out, these sites date from the earliest years of Christianity in Eastern Europe. NATO’s response to the Serb refusal to give up its Kosovo province has been to wage a civilizational war, to try to demoralize an enemy by obliterating a cultural heritage.
One can only marvel at what must go on in the minds of Clinton, Albright, Gen. Clark and the others: What—in this age of Littleton and The Jerry Springer Show—makes them so certain that America “stands taller” and “sees further”? Who do they think they are?
An important dissent from the bombing campaign comes from Mary Robinson, the brilliant former president of Ireland who now heads the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Embarking on a tour of the embattled Balkan states, Robinson iterated once again her view that NATO’s readiness to accept large-scale civilian deaths as “collateral damage” was wrong. She stressed that both NATO and Serbia were responsible for extensive human rights abuses, and both could be examined for potential war crimes guilt by the World Court. A Canadian-led group of lawyers has taken up the challenge and filed a formal complaint against Clinton, Albright and company along these lines.
What a delicious thought! Clinton on the dock in the Hague, trying to explain what gave him the right to hand Belgrade a diktat at Rambouillet and then destroy Yugoslavia when the Serbs wouldn’t sign. A far healthier exercise than the silly Monica hunt. Sadly, Clinton and Albright won’t pay the price for their reckless policies, which are sowing a harvest of deepening resentment toward the United States from Khartoum to Bangkok, from Belgrade to Beijing. That cost will likely be borne by ordinary Americans in the years to come.
Whether or not you support this war, two facts have been clear from the beginning: Winning it requires ground troops; and a ground war will never happen—and could never have happened. The cavalry will not arrive for the ethnic Albanians. Clinton is now the sole holdout, against the Joint Chiefs, against Tony Blair, even against the French and Germans. Why? Could it be that the entire operation is being put at risk because of one man’s lack of valor?
I once heard a British historian in a radio discussion say that what saved Britain from defeat in 1940 was the personal physical courage of Winston Churchill. I’ve remembered it for 25 years because it seemed so remarkably trivial. But now I can understand what he meant. Churchill is one of Clinton’s heroes, and in the first years of Clinton’s administration, he was fond of saying that he lamented having no great world-historical challenge to meet. Should it be a surprise that, having created a challenge worthy of Churchill by his own ineptitude and inattention, Clinton should flunk it?
Churchill’s bravery was public: He fought and reported from the Boer wars; he constantly demanded to go to the front in World War I; he repeatedly took stands in various governments he served in that risked—and sometimes resulted in—consignment to political oblivion; he took full responsibility for his mistakes, as he did with Gallipoli.
Clinton’s physical cowardice is more subtle. I’ve thought for years that he had a Machiavellian desire to disguise his conscientious opposition to the war in Vietnam so as not to make political waves—but I’ve concluded that I have probably been wrong. Recent books about Clinton have shown his tepid and unimpassioned opposition to the war. I am corrected: It’s far more likely that Clinton was simply afraid that being drafted would put him in physical danger.
Other evidence? The only violence he has ever personally committed has been against at least one woman of a lower social class than his wife. It’s a cliche that such men axiomatically must be cowards—but unfortunately not always true. Still, much of Clinton’s success with women came with the full trappings of office: How would he have done without the uniformed and armed men who accompanied him when he paid court to ladies in Arkansas?
But it’s the way he wages war that clinches it. European critics like to call NATO strategy cowardly. It is. Our pilots take off from bases in Missouri, fly for 15 hours to drop bombs on targets they cannot see and get back in time to see their kids play sports. By appealing to soccer moms Clinton hung onto office in 1996; now he’s staked the outcome of his Yugoslavian misadventure on soccer bombs. He’s not afraid of failure; he’s not afraid of the collapse of NATO, of a renascent Russia gathering in its former Slavic client states; he’s not afraid completely to undermine and embarrass his NATO allies. These are merely dishonorable outcomes. I think he fears something more serious.
Why should he worry about committing ground troops to the conflict? No one expects a president to lead an army into battle. And the deaths of American soldiers would not place his job at risk—thanks to the 22nd Amendment, our president must leave office in 2001 in any case.
I think that what has created President Clinton’s unwonted resoluteness in the face of overwhelming opposition to his policy of non-invasion is fear. The only policy that might win the war he started would place him in danger of violence he would prefer not to face: assassination. Imagine the file cabinets at the Secret Service bulging with threats from Vietnam-era veterans against a man they regard as a draft dodger, a traitor, a coward and worse. Like most threats, most—even all of them—are probably empty. But I think the only explanation for Clinton’s stubborn willingness to oversee the complete collapse of his Yugoslavian adventure must be that, should he commit ground troops to dangers that he himself was unwilling to face, and should there be casualties, he believes a yet-unknown Rambo out there will lock and load.
Once again, Mr. Clinton is electioneering rather than leading. Now he has targeted the nation’s smallest electoral segment: crazed, violent, armed veterans. He’s sacrificing his war aims to get them to sit on their hands. It’s not just foxy ladies Clinton likes to embrace. He clings to office despite dishonor, to marriage despite humiliation. Such a man will cling to life with the same tenacity, allowing the utter humiliation of NATO and the collapse of the security system of the West in order not to have to risk an unpleasant death. No wonder he was so upset at Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral. “Never again,” he must have whispered to himself.
Heroism is a bit out of date. We have had a mysterious spate of physical cowards in public life. Colin Powell decided not to run for president because he wanted to die with his boots off (nobly blaming his wife). Our President’s curious willingness utterly to wreck a uniquely favorable global balance of power, an interval of peace that took decades of sacrifice to bring about—is a reminder that choosing heroes for leaders may not be such a quaint idea.
Pax Americana was over even more quickly than the “Thousand Year Reich.” The United States had its chance and blew it. It is not the burning of embassies, the worldwide denunciations of American arrogance and bullying or the reemergence of Russia and its rapprochement with China that signals the end of our Cold War victory. Most ominous of all is the growing ridicule of America’s once-feared military prowess: Complete national humiliation looms. Now it’s time to decide “who lost the world.”
Let us resolve never again to listen to Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Henry Kissinger, William Kristol, Larry Eagleburger, Brent Scowcroft and the rest of our illustrious foreign policy elite. Our idiotic onslaught on Yugoslavia cannot be attributed solely to Clinton’s smelly little political calculations or to Madeleine Albright’s cretinism. A fiasco like this has been in the works for a long time.
Our foreign policy elite has made this war. For years its self-anointed members have been looking for a fight that would pit America’s virtue and unrivaled military strength against some rogue state—at once vicious and feeble. The fight would not only be morally uplifting but entirely cost-free. A few buttons here, a few keys there and the missiles would bring the villain du jour to his senses.
The trick was to find the right candidate. Haiti? Too hot. Iran? Too difficult. China? Too powerful. Cuba? Too many friends in Hollywood. North Korea? Too dangerous. Iraq? Been there; done that. Rwanda? Even hotter than Haiti.
By 1992 the elite consensus had settled on Yugoslavia. It was just the right size, and since it was European and Christian Orthodox it would help to enhance our elite’s multicultural credentials. Year after year the Anthony Lewises and the William Kristols would call for the bombing of Milosevic, and year after year their stockings were empty. To be sure, the United States was not entirely inactive. In 1995, in addition to bombing the Serbs of Bosnia, it lent a hand to the Croats in their ethnic cleansing of Krajina. More than 150,000 Serbs were driven from the land where their ancestors had lived for centuries. But with the appointment of Madeleine Albright, it would be only a matter of time before the bombs fell.
Nothing illustrates better the moral vacuity, the frivolity and the intellectual shallowness of this elite than its silence about—and even enthusiastic collusion with—the expulsion of the Serbs from Krajina. Apart from the inhumanity of the policy, where was our national interest? Where was the strategic advantage?
But contradictions are nothing new to these people. Remember last summer’s declaration of war against terrorism? We chased Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan and tried to bomb him in a Sudanese aspirin factory, but we wink at his role in the training and arming of the Kosovo Liberation Army. Ignoring these contradictions, our policy elite trot dutifully into the studios of NewsHour, Nightline and Crossfire and mouth all the familiar platitudes and cliches about the supposed wickedness of the Serbs, about “genocide,” about America’s morality. Not one of these “experts” recognizes that the doctrine that people have to be killed in order to be saved will have an eerily familiar ring to a people newly liberated from Communism.
Consider the svelte and elegant Larry Eagleburger. As a former U.S. ambassador he knew perfectly well that Yugoslavia was a federation comprising six distinct nations, not six distinct republics. He knew perfectly well that the moment one of these ”republics” seceded and attempted to set itself up as a nation-state it would come into conflict with its Serb minority who wished to continue to be citizens of Yugoslavia. He knew perfectly well that the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims were Nazi allies in World War II. He knew perfectly well that the murderous treatment meted out to the Serbs in the Ustashe State of Croatia was so horrifying that even the Nazis were shocked. A word of explanation from him could have made a difference. Instead Larry Eagleburger was happy to go along with the ill-informed conventional view that blamed the Serbs and Milosevic for everything.
Consider the intellectual and urbane Henry Kissinger. A refugee from Hitler, he stands coolly by as the media misapply words like “genocide” and “Holocaust.” Now he is on the box expressing indignation he does not really feel about Kosovo. Before the bombing he argued that the worst outcome in the Balkans would be the establishment of a quasi-independent state of Kosovo. But now he demands that the United States do whatever was necessary to ensure the “victory” he once deplored. Had Kissinger issued a skeptical statement at the beginning, it could have made a difference—but might have threatened his status as the dean of the foreign policy elite.
And then the chorus: Jeane Kirkpatrick, William Kristol and Brent Scowcroft all loudly calling for ground troops. They are intelligent enough to realize the aftermath of a U.S. victory. In order to maintain such a Carthaginian peace, the U.S. will have to establish innumerable little protectorates. Serbia would be one, Kosovo another, also Montenegro. So would Vojvodina, or Hungarians may seize it. Bulgaria wants eastern Macedonia. The Romanians and the Croatians want parts of Serbia.
Now we can see why our foreign policy elite is so enthusiastic about fighting the Serbs. As a result, they can create tiny pseudo-states that will forever be American dependencies—like Guam in the Balkans.