The Breakfast Table

America the Meddlesome

Dear hawkish husband,

Horace said, “You can change your skies, but not your soul.” And it’s true that even after almost six years under these too-often-gray skies, my Australian soul remains perplexed by the paradox of a world superpower who wants to straighten out everybody else’s problems, if only it wasn’t so durn hard figuring out just who, exactly, everyone else is.

Remember that analysis in the New York Times about Madeleine Albright mishandling the Albanians at the French peace talks? It was by Jane Perlez, another Aussie–like Canadians, we’re insidious, largely undetectable, and infiltrating all your major institutions. No one, it seems, had given Albright any good information about the Kosovo Liberation Army’s organization or philosophy. (Once again, one is left to wonder what, exactly, the CIA, the NSA, and all the others do with their workweek.) So, when Albright tried to phone up the Liberation Army spokesman–a man who spent 28 years as a political prisoner of the Serbs–to pressure him into falling in line on a peace agreement, he brusquely responded that the problems of Kosovo couldn’t be solved in a phone call.

I wonder if Albright has been to the Field of Blackbirds–the site of the 1389 battle of Kosovo. In spring, when the red peonies bloom there, Albanians say it is the blood of their martyrs crying out from the earth. Lies, say the Serbs. It’s the blood of their martyrs … I wonder if anyone translated the inscription on the Serb monument there for her. It’s part of a very old epic poem: “Whoever does not fight at Kosovo/ May he have no dear children born to him!/ May neither boy nor girl be born to him!/ May nothing bear fruit that his hand sows/ Neither the white wheat nor the red wine!”

Kosovo reminds me of Turkish Kurdistan: a place where a people has been ratcheted down by the harshest repression, until, finally, they vent a violent response. (And that, in turn, reminds me of an anecdote in Barbara Bush’s memoir that was a quintessential example of willful global ignorance, when she makes fun of Danielle Mitterrand for wanting to speak to her about the plight of the Kurds. Her response was something along the lines of: Kurds, Turds … who can be bothered to keep all these boring people straight?)

Anyway, in the case of both the Kurds and the Albanians, the ordinary, desperately poor villagers are trapped between the hammer of the oppressor and the anvil of the resistors. To withold support for the PKK in Kurdistan or the KLA in Kosovo is to betray your people. To give it is to invite obliteration … It’s hard to know what a few bombs–or even a lot of bombs–will do in this case. When the bombing runs stop, 90 percent of Kosovars will still be Albanian. And Serbs will still see Kosovo as the holy ground of their history.