The Breakfast Table

Kosovo’s Silver Lining

Dear Anne:

That was crackling good, and not just because I agree with much of what you’ve said. The Washington Post had an interesting piece today by John Harris that said Clinton now sees Kosovo as “a defining moment for his presidency.” (It also contains a nugget that I’m surprised Slate’s Scott Shuger didn’t pick up: the assertion by one of Clinton’s aides that the president is willing to consider using ground troops.) This new sense of urgency is either good or bad, depending on what you think about Clinton. From my perspective, it’s mostly good–the man is incredibly sharp, charismatic, and driven when he’s focused.

I think you’re right that we’re reaching a critical point in the war of nerves, but not necessarily because Americans are getting bored, frustrated, or discouraged. (One bit of good news about the reduced media attention you cite: Dan Rather has stopped doing bad Edward R. Murrow imitations in the streets of Belgrade.) To my mind, what makes the next week particularly ticklish is the upcoming NATO summit. Kosovo threatens to turn what was supposed to have been a victory lap into a crawl over cut glass. A quick troll through the foreign press (courtesy of both Slate and USIA) suggests that there’s more carping across Europe about NATO strategy. With 19 heads of state sitting around a table, it’s going to be tough just to hold things together, much less to agree on a more forceful strategy.

Of course, Kosovo could become another Iraq: a drawn-out containment operation interrupted by the occasional cruise missile strike or bombing attack. A recent CBS News poll suggests that a growing number of Americans think that the air campaign could last for months or a year. But it’s hard to imagine that 19 nations will stay in line, that Clinton’s attention span will hold, and that the Democratic Party will want to go into a presidential election with three (Iraq, Bosnia, and Kosovo) big deployments hanging around its neck. (Come to think of it, if I were Kim Jong-Il of North Korea, I’d start ginning up another crisis right about now …)

No, I haven’t seen the Reichstag, but I’m intrigued by what Foster is supposed to have done. (At the risk of being branded a scatologist, I have to say that your harsh words about contemporary German architecture reminded me of Gunter Grass’s comment that Frankfurt resembles what would have happened if God had shat a pile of concrete.) One silver lining to the Kosovo crisis is Germany’s military role. I’m even starting to like Gerhard Schröder. Tell me, what’s your sense of Polish thinking about Germany’s deployment? For that matter, what do they think about the whole operation? And what have you found today in your trove of illegible documents?