The Breakfast Table

Summit Jitters

Dear James,

Oddly enough, what I said about German architecture applies to the whole country: bourgeois and unimperial. Given the amount of time and energy that everybody, from the French to the Poles to the Germans themselves, spent worrying about what an aggressive imperialist monster united Germany was going to be a few years back, this first government of the “Berlin Republic” has been almost a disappointment. Far from turning imperial, the Germans are much more reluctant to spend money on supporting the European Union, much more anxious about German jobs at home, and totally and utterly uninterested in any kind of Drang Nach Osten . They don’t even read newspaper articles about the East: A Polish studies institute in Germany last year produced a thick, heavy, deeply concerned paper on “why Germans are not interested in Polish politics.”

The amount of agonizing that has gone on in Germany about the use of German troops abroad is symptomatic. This is a country, after all, which didn’t even want to call the rebuilt Reichstag “The Reichstag,” because that sounded too imperial and somehow had echoes of Hitler (even though he burned it). Instead, the official name is: “Plenary Assembly Area of the Reichstag Building.”

The Poles know all this, which is why the issue of German planes in Kosovo hasn’t bothered them unduly. How the Poles feel about the Kosovo bombing is more complex, if not downright confused. They had literally just joined NATO, which they all thought was a sort of defense support group which would help them in case the Russians ever turned nasty again. Then suddenly they were plunged into all sorts of issues about international law and minority rights and American neo-imperialism that they had never had to worry about before. Very telling, I thought, was the statement of the Polish defense minister on the evening of the first bombing raids. He made a perfectly well-intentioned speech about “our support for the Americans and the leaders of NATO, blah blah blah.” Then someone pointed out that he is one of the leaders of NATO. Oops.

You’re right about the NATO summit, which is going to be a peculiar event indeed: I hope you’ve planned a trip out of town, as security in D.C. is going to be unbearable. The event itself may not be a lot of fun either. A month or two ago, Polish politicians were fighting one another for seats on the two enormous aircraft that are flying from Warsaw to Washington for that weekend. I wonder if anyone will want to go now. Although both are tough, I still think that keeping the American public, Congress, media, etc., in line will be just as difficult as keeping the NATO heads of state in line. Just wait until Americans for Tax Reform starts calculating how many days in the year the average American has had to work in order to pay for the bombing of Kosovo.

Can’t tell you what I’ve found in my illegible documents or that will spoil the surprise. Rush out and buy my book instead (if I ever finish writing it).