When being an American Sucks

People always want to talk politics and when they talk about the policies of the American government they use the pronoun “You.”

Today I made the mistake of getting in a political conversation with a Canadian and a Brit. I normally avoid stuff like this. But there were a few beers involved.

Of course they were mitching and boaning about the USA’s foreign policy. I chimed in with a couple of points.

If you are a country and there is bad stuff happening to you where do you turn to? That’s right, the USA. If the USA tries to help you, people will question its underlying motives. If they don’t, you’ll be pissed and so will everyone else who thinks you are getting a raw deal. The USA is damned if they do and damned if they don’t. (Note: None of this applies to Iraq. There is not enough alcohol on Earth to get me talking about Iraq with anyone.)

That’s it. That was my point.

The Canadian told me that this line of thinking from me scared him. That he wouldn’t expect to here such things from a young liberal.

To back up my point, I mentioned Bangladesh. The people of Bangladesh have very bad feelings towards American policy, although not towards Americans (they treated me great). They think that in Washington someone is sitting around and thinking about how the USA can exploit Bangladesh. Personally, I would be surprised if anyone in Washington sits around and thinks about Bangladesh much.

Their comeback for this is that Bangladesh has natural gas that the USA is interested in. I don’t know anything about this so I bring up another example, Kosovo.

The Canadian and Brit are 35 years my senior, which I have to respect. They’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things. I’m sure they have some valid points. But they don’t have much of an answer for Kosovo.

I wrote a column on Kosovo a few years back and it pretty much sums up my stance on the USA’s no-win situation when it comes to foreign policy. It’s about as political as you’ll ever see me get…unless I’ve a got a beer or three in me.

You can read it below the cut.

By Kelsey Timmerman

Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo- This is exactly what I expected to see.

A field of rubble stretches out before me. Broken bricks and pieces of cinder blocks poke through the mud as far as the early morning light allows me to see.

Why am I here? In the States, idly flipping though my Eastern Europe guidebook, I had stumbled across the three pages dedicated to Kosovo. “Who would want to go there? Isn’t there a war or something going on?” Perhaps it was to spite my preconceived notions of land mines and gun-toting militants which attracted me to Kosovo; to see how people live out their lives in a place many of us inappropriately perceive as hostile

Following WWII, Kosovo, primarily populated by Albanians, was annexed to Serbia, becoming an unwilling member of the People’s Republic of Yugoslavia. Violence initiated by both sides led to increased tension. To put the animosity in perspective: in 1985, to show how cruel and inhumane the Albanians were, a Serbian man shoved a bottle up his own butt and placed the blame on the “immoral” Albanians.

When Slobodan Milosevic rose to power he stripped Kosovo of what little autonomy it had. Serbians were put in control of the police, media, schools, utilities, and factories. Kosovo declared independence in 1991 to the fury of the Serbian government.

Where is Prishtina? It’s not in this field of rubble. Turning I search for something that is not destroyed. The unexpected: She is 40-feet tall perched atop of a five-story hotel. The Statue of Liberty, an apparition drowned by floodlights, looks to the West. That is not exactly what I expected. She is a beacon – city this way.

Down Bill Clinton Street, a block away from the Bill Clinton concrete factory, I pass a billboard of our 42nd president, larger than life. A quote preaching peace and hope educates pedestrians and motorists alike.

In the spring of 1999 hundreds of thousands of Kosovars were forced from their homes. Civilians were executed, women and children alike, as the Serbs tried to weed out members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). All of the nations belonging to NATO except Russia, a long time ally of Serbia, supported military action to gain control of a situation that could set off a multi-national war. In order for NATO to use force, the UN’s Security Council had to unanimously approve any action. Russia refused to do so.

It was the United States led by Clinton that convinced the remaining NATO members that due to the nature of the humanitarian catastrophe, action should be taken regardless of approval from the Security Council. In March of 2000, NATO planes dropped bombs on Belgrade, the Serbian Capital. The bombing campaign lasted 78-days before Milosevic pulled out of Kosovo.

The library of Prishtina University sits in an open field behind a bombed out Orthodox Church. “Excuse me, I am an American student, do you have time to talk?”

The English words process slowly across his face before he sticks out his hand, “Luigi. My name Luigi.” We are instant friends and spend the next few days chatting in cafes with Luigi’s friends, hiking in the mountains, and playing soccer.

It is my last night in Prishtina and we are at the apartment of one of Luigi’s friend’s, Lin. They are hatching a plot to use me to pick up girls, “Kosovar girls like American men very much. Maybe if I walk beside you down the street they will think I am American.”

The electricity goes off and Lin lights a candle. He offers to make coffee, but the tap yields no water. It is everyday life in Kosovo and the Albanian people are resilient. Lin pulls out a bottle of homemade Vodka with enough kick to power the city for a few hours, and some honey collected from his parents’ hives. The candlelight dances as our shadows pass the glass jars around the room. The honey glows golden, the vodka burns- fire. Laughter warms the room.

As the world’s most powerful nation, advocating equal rights, liberty, and democracy, all eyes turn to the U.S. for help in times of desperation. The responsibility is great. Some Americans say we are wasting resources on poor corrupt nations when we have plenty of poverty and corruption in our own. That may be, but if it weren’t for U.S. action, Luigi and his friends would have likely been driven from their homes or killed.

A silence falls in the room after a passionate conversation regarding American music, in particular the genius of Bryan Adams’s love ballads. Across the room, a single flame reflecting in his eyes, Luigi looks up at me, “America saved my life…my families’ life…all of Albanians in Kosovo.”

“We love America.”

Kent says:

You as a traveler, the only burden you should have to carry is your backpack.

Nice post Kels,

Violet says:

Actually the US IS at fault for screwing with the rest of the world. Nobody wants or cares to hear about what biased, overly-patriotic Americans have to say. Our government is one of the worst, along with the governments of Israel, Saudi Arabia, U.K. and China, to name a few.

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