London An American who finds himself far from home as Memorial Day 1999 approaches cannot help but reflect how a new generation of leaders in the United States and Europe, men untested personally in battle, are coping with the challenge of war.
Five weeks ago, when the Kosovo hostilities were less than half as old as they are now, five of them -- the president of the United States and the prime ministers of Great Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands -- gathered on a Sunday afternoon at the end of the NATO 50th anniversary summit in Washington to reflect on and celebrate their common approach to the challenges of this new era. They call it the Third Way, denoting a theory of politics, economics and government they would like to think is going to be dominant in the next century.
As leaders of center-left parties, they said they were committed to a more inclusive and generous social policy than the conservatives they had defeated but insisted they had learned the folly of the doctrinaire leftist economics the previous generation of their own parties had practiced. They want to be seen as thoroughly modern men, accepting the realities of the information age, but determined to cushion vulnerable families against the wrenching changes a world economy brings.
But at the moment they gathered under the auspices of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the organization that spawned President Clinton's candidacy and has nurtured his administration, all of them were acutely conscious that Kosovo has become their war, as much as World War II and the Cold War had been for their predecessors.
Three days earlier, on April 22, British Prime Minister Tony Blair had declared in Chicago that the NATO campaign to force Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic to end his brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Kosovo Albanians "is a just war" and that "there is no alternative to continuing until we succeed."
Citing NATO's demands for a withdrawal of all Serb forces from Kosovo and the return of the refugees to their homes under protection of an international military force, Blair vowed, "We will not negotiate on these aims. Milosevic must accept them."
The speech was applauded on both sides of the Atlantic as a clarion call to the NATO allies. But in the five weeks since then, the unity and the durability of the five "Third Way" leaders has been severely tested.
One of them, Wim Kok, the prime minister of the Netherlands, has been forced to step down, because of domestic policy splits in his governing coalition. Another, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, has seen his coalition partner, the Green Party, so loudly dissent on Kosovo that Schroeder has said his country would oppose any NATO effort to deploy ground forces. And Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, who faces even stronger domestic opposition, has pressed for a NATO bombing halt and a negotiated settlement with Milosevic.
Meantime, Blair is depicted daily in the British press as the stout-hearted Churchillian leader who is pressing a reluctant Clinton to screw up his courage and threaten Belgrade with invasion unless Milosevic accepts NATO's terms.
Al From, the president of the DLC and Washington's chief promoter of Third Way government, told me just before I came over here, "It is terribly important how this turns out. A generation of (Vietnam War) peaceniks now has the responsibility for completing a wartime mission -- and they better not fail." From's publication, the New Democrat, takes a Blair-like tone in an editorial in its current issue, twice saying that Clinton and NATO must achieve their goals in Kosovo, even if "it means risking and accepting casualties."
Clinton shrinks from that risk, conscious that Vietnam and Somalia left his country with a "body bag syndrome" that could come back to haunt his hoped-for successor, Vice President Gore, in the campaign of 2000.
Blair faces no such problem in Britain, where public opinion and all parties are strongly in support of the war. The threat to him lies in a negotiated settlement that falls far short of NATO's goals -- making his rhetoric seem empty.
But the challenge extends to all the "Third Way" leaders. None of them has yet demonstrated that the consciously cautious policies he is pursuing at home can accomplish the ambitious goals of accelerating economic growth and assuring social justice. In Kosovo, they have revised NATO's historic rationale as a defensive alliance and launched a limited war -- one in which the military means may not be adequate to achieve the bold humanitarian and political ends.
Kosovo has become the standard by which their leadership will be judged.
-- David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.