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Jewish World Review April 13, 1999 /27 Nissan 5759

Sam Schulman

The Imp and the Ingenue

(JWR) ---- (
IN A MOMENT OF CANDOR, Tony Blair's Government confessed last weekend that his government and, by implication, the rest of NATO, suffered a "massive failure of imagination" when it began the bombing campaign.

After it started, Milosevec would no longer have a reason to moderate his campaign against the Kosovors. And as Clinton and Blair's statements made it clear that the intensity of bombing would mount gradually, it was as good as a iron-clad guarantee to Milosevic that no one would hamper him from doing what he clearly wanted to do: completely to deport the Albanian population of Kosovo.

Milosevic must have felt almost compelled by NATO policy to undertake his campaign-never before or after would such an opportunity exist. He saw clearly as the Joint Chiefs of Staff did that NATO's air war would not ruffle a single hair on a single Serbian policeman's head doing his bloody duty in Kosovo.

There is a character type in Shakespearean tragedy whom we ought to know better if we are to understand this drama. It is the minor devil, the imp, for whom opportunity is compulsion, whom Shakespeare calls "a finder of occasions." Wickedness for him - or her, since Lady MacBeth is their dean -- consists of letting a chance go by. Milosevic, in this guise, confronts President Clinton, who, to the world's great cost, is an ingenue from musical comedy.

Sam Schulman
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Self-centered, weak, charming, and indulged, he is utterly unequipped to do anything other than deliver his friends unprepared into the hands of their enemies. The result, so far, is that 831,000 Kosovans have been driven from their homes.

This is a moment when, not the unthinkable, but the thinkable has happened --- an outcome easily predictable (and we now know widely predicted). Can we learn from it? The thinkable is much more common than its opposite. Writing about the Holocaust repeatedly asks how any conceivable G-d could permit such a horror. After Auschwitz, how can we have faith, pray, write, make poems, philosophize, even speak at all?

Well, here are more horrors (but, so far, no genocide). And at this moment it's perfectly clear that G-d hasn't failed, but man. The Kosovo degringolade, like the Nazi slaughter, could have been prevented by the application of human qualities G-d has, thank G-d, made abundant among us: Disciplined attentiveness, moral courage, imagination, common sense, intelligence, resolve, and willingness to act. Unfortunately the present administration happens to be devoid of these qualities. Our ingenuous President's greatest failing is his well-communicated lack of resolve to carry out the threats he so promiscuously makes.

How can we expect resolution of will from a man who has never known it? Like the poet Shelley, another spoiled, adored ingenue, Clinton can say "I go on until I am stopped, and I never am stopped." Clinton has spent his entire life successfully and flamboyantly evading the discipline under which others less lucky have had to live. Our generation of men-his and mine -- had to face the Vietnam war, either to resign oneself to it or stand up to it. Clinton did neither. We had to live our entire adult life under the discipline of the new feminism, in marriages and careers in which we were held to more rigorous standards of behavior than were our fathers. Clinton mysteriously and magnificently managed to evade this requirement. Our generation of politicians was expected to moderate its corruption and greed. Clinton never bothered. In fact, his wife and cronies made use of Clinton's undisciplined but lucky life to seize a kind of power that otherwise would have been unattainable.

So it's no surprise that Clinton has failed to impose his will on other nations. He cannot imagine what an attentive parent knows: that weak and fragmented countries, like small children, need and even want the imposition of limits to bad behavior. So many of the dictators we have had to deal with - Saddam particularly-have, in the absence of clear rules and expectations, almost welcomed the pinprick military actions we've offered because they've been the only way to understand the limits of what is to be tolerated. These limits turn out to be pretty broad. And, as with children, not limiting what is permissible creates the temptation to turn from naughtiness to petty villainy to major crime.

In fact, the logic of the situation compels certain men to become more evil, to undertake with more energy what might have been taboo before. What he is permitted to do Milosevic will do, like any devil worth his brimstone. On the other hand, Clinton will only do what he is compelled to. Of course, Milosevic is evil, Clinton merely contemptible, but neither man is what we would call a mature moral actor. Sadly, you don't need Oliviers to produce a tragedy.

JWR contributor Sam Schulman is deputy editor of Taki's Top Drawer, appearing in New York Press, and was formerly publisher of Wigwag and a professor of English at Boston University. You may contact him by clicking here.


04/05/99: Col. Blimp is Alive ... and in Washington

©1999, Sam Schulman