Finally, the country gets stuck in the seemingly permanent situation that France is in: an electorate whose sympathies are split quite evenly in thirds, between a government that lacks legitimacy, an opposition that lacks legitimacy and a collection of "spoiler" third parties that think the whole thing's a pile of crap. Of course, such a country could also wind up like Venezuela, in which the government and the "opposition" come to be viewed as basically the same party. Once that happens, the spoiler element grows to a landslide majority, and you have Hugo Chavez's red-bereted partisans rioting to keep the national legislature from even entering the capital building in Caracas, as they did last week. (Not that their diagnosis of Venezuela's two-party shell game is necessarily wrong; it's just that their prescription is going to take them God-knows-where.)
In this light, the state-delegitimizing potential of the FBI cover-up of the 1993 Waco incident now looks like a more and more serious matter. The existence of two incendiary canisters fired into the Branch Davidian compound?and, now, tapes confirming their use?changes everything. The collection of Justice Dept. hacks who have made their appearance on the pundit shows don't seem to recognize this at all. They say: There were only two canisters fired, and besides, they didn't start the fire. Yeah, sure. The Justice Dept.?which spectacularly seized all the FBI's evidence last Wednesday night?is now saying that only a "very limited number" of pyrotechnic devices were fired.
Whatever that "very limited number" is, I'd bet a paycheck that it's not two. As Flann O'Brien used to say, "Quid dicerunt Dublin Transport Company? 'Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.'"
Uglj Americans The part-Serb, part-Albanian town of Orahovac was blockaded two weeks ago by Albanians. (Yes, Albanians?you notice how they don't refer to themselves as "Kosovars" anymore, now that our air power has brought victory to the most enduringly fascistic nation in Europe?) The protesters were indignant that the Dutch United Nations forces billeted in Orahovac were scheduled to be replaced by Russians?who are feared to be pro-Serb. This, in turn, might cramp the new Albanian National Sport of hunting the few Serbs who remain in the ghetto-like enclave to which they've been confined. So the Albanians put their foot down, and after a week of being hung out to dry by NATO's American leaders, the Russians retreated. Two big problems: First, although we've moved on to bigger and better mistakes, this humiliation is huge news in Russia, leaving Ivan Potentialfascistovski less and less inclined to have any truck with such Western hypocrisies as democracy and human rights. Second, since a Russian role in the peacekeeping forces was guaranteed by the treaty that ended the war, one wonders how long the rest of the treaty will hold up.
UN troops are now in the situation they were in during the Srebrenica period of the Bosnian war: They're armed escorts for ethnic cleansers. Since we were led into the Kosovo operation largely out of frustration and wounded pride at the ease with which Slobodan Milosevic was able to manipulate the West in 1995, one wonders how long it will be before we turn against the Albanians for the same reason. Not long. Delaware's Joe Biden, ranking Dem on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has threatened to cut off all funds to Kosovo if the Kosovo Liberation Army has not fully disarmed by the agreed-upon deadline of Sept. 19. The KLA has already said, "Nothing doing."
Last week the first mass grave from this stage of the war was found outside the town of Zlas. It held the bodies of 42 Serbian men, women and children. What's more, according to the website Stratfor.com, the Russian foreign ministry says that the "U.S. contingent" of the UN Kosovo mission (KFOR) has covered up the killing of 15 Serbs in Ugljare in August. Russian government agencies are almost totally unreliable, but since they've been consistently more reliable than KFOR, the report can't be dismissed. Veton Surroi, the director of the Albanian-language Pristina daily Koha Ditore, expressed his shame in last week's Le Monde at the sadistic vengeance his countrymen have been wreaking on the Serbs. For an Albanian to publish a disquisition entitled "Fascism in Kosovo: The Shame of the Albanians" takes considerable guts; Surroi, for all his patriotic credentials, may have guaranteed himself an Ibrahim Rugova-style permanent exile with his remarks.
But Surroi is wrong to say that "for the first time in our history, we, the Albanians of Kosovo, are equally capable of carrying out acts just as monstrous" as the Kosovo Serbs'. During the Second War?as I've mentioned in this column before?Kosovo's Albanians were gung ho volunteers for the Special SS regiments (known as the "Skanderbeg Brigades") that the occupying Germans set up there. As Chris Hedges has reported in Foreign Affairs, one faction of the KLA admired the Skanderbegs so wholeheartedly that it modeled its uniforms after them.
Wesley Clark came to Washington last week to issue an apologia pro quagmire sua. I was out of town when he came but I did catch an excerpt of an interview he did on Montenegrin television. In it, he was asked about mounting reports of atrocities against Serbs, and said there was nothing to worry about: "We know where Serbs are living. We call on them frequently. We patrol those areas and are carefully listening to what they have to say about their concerns and fears."
My favorite Clarkism was his claim that "we contact Albanians and talk to their leaders. We have told them they must control their men." I'd love to be in on these conversations: Hey, Rexhep, are you exterminating villages full of people? No? Good!
Ump Change Sept. 1 is the day Major League baseball teams go to 40-man rosters. This year it was also the day bullying umpires got their comeuppance from Major League baseball. Twenty-two of the umpires who resigned in unison last summer (in their bid for even more outrageously Croesian pay than they already get) had to accept a severance package that?pending arbitration?will keep them from umping a big-league game ever again. Good riddance.
Big-league umpiring, particularly on ball-and-strike calls, has become so arbitrary and odd that it would mystify any longtime baseball fan. The strike zone is now preposterously wide and preposterously short?although it varies more widely from ump to ump than it has in my lifetime. The umps' labor savvy seems to have been of a piece with their on-field lack of judgment. It seems to be a pattern. Like Britain's National Union of Miners, which staged the biggest strike in its history in 1984, at precisely the moment when the public's hatred of them had risen to an all-time high, the umpires who pulled their strike-by-resignation stunt did so when their job performance was at an all-time low. Most of these guys are jock-sniffing loudmouths. The four steak-and-martini meals a day that their generous meal allowances provide for have left them as grotesquely bloated as the salaries they've been able to extort. It's tough to shed a tear for them.