It is springtime in Washington. The forsythia and dogwood are blossoming. The air has been balmy. But somehow, with bombs falling in Yugoslavia, and refugees streaming across the border, and U.S. servicemen in enemy hands, it seems wrong to celebrate.
Writing a story about an artist, or a choreographer, or even about urban policy feels frivolous. Everything pales before the video of families fleeing, grandparents carted along in wheelbarrows, wives terrified about the fate of their missing husbands, children sobbing for their homes.
Kosovo, of course, is not the only place on the planet where persecution and misery reign supreme. But since this has become an American conflict, we cannot stop thinking about it, and indeed we should not want to feel immune from the pain of seeing so much anguish.
What, we wonder, if NATO had not launched bombing attacks? Wouldn't the Serb's slow and steady oppression of Kosovo Albanians have been preferable to the dramatic upheaval we are seeing today? What if we have made it worse?
President Clinton insists that we have not, that Slobodan Milosevic was determined to purge Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian population, that at the very most we speeded up a process that was well underway. He may be correct.
But for a generation of Americans who grew up during the Vietnam War, there is no forgetting that honorable goals can have unintended consequences. There is also no forgetting that it is easy to underestimate an enemy's willingness to fight to the death.
Clinton Administration officials argue that getting involved in Kosovo was a strategic necessity, because instability in Yugoslavia would threaten all of eastern Europe, and ultimately western Europe as well.
Other policy analysts have dismissed that argument as nonsense.
But as we watch those excruciating pictures, strategic interests are not really uppermost in our minds. We simply want the suffering to end, the good guys to prevail.
Like it or not, we are involved. Now we want it to mean something.
By Rita Braver
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