Jeans and jackboots

February 10, 1994|By Georgie Anne Geyer

Washington -- THE EERIE tenor of our times was shown this week not in the 68-person death toll of the most recent massacre in Sarajevo but in the NATO planes flying back and forth over the carnage without acting: The power of the West to free had now become the power of the West to relegate the innocents to slaughter.

And the response of President Clinton was as Orwellian as it was expected. He said that he hoped the deadly mortar attack on Bosnian Muslims would "shock" the warring factions into new peace talks.

The West's non-use of its power in Bosnia has become so fixed that one realizes there is much more there than simply common human error, inanity and dilly-dallying cowardice. Indeed, the Western -- and Eastern Serbian -- behavior clearly demarcates a generational change in power dynamics in the world.

Let us think of the new power lineup in the world in terms of two newly coagulating groups that are beginning to decide our futures: the "jeans" and the "jackboots."

The jeans are the new leaders who came out of the '60s youth counterculture, mixed with Third World anti-imperialists, pseudo-Marxist ideologues and utopian Christians. They want the world to be good, but they do not under any circumstances want to use force to make it so. They do not believe in innate aggression in people and they look on government not as a preserver of principle but as a means of supplying physical goods to people.

The jackboots are the little Napoleons of the militias, gangs and regional armies from Serbia to India to the Caucasus and parts of Central Asia and Africa. The word "jackboot" is not the sign or symbol of the traditional soldier at all; indeed, the jackboot, worn by militias during the 17th and 18th centuries, is a special form of heavy military boot, usually of black leather extending well above the knee. It connotes uncontrolled savage power, usually at the service of regional ambition and of hatred of "the other."

In a world that was supposed to be all peace and light after the end of the Cold War, in most places we have the jeans up against the jackboots -- hapless idealism up against renegade brutality.

These are dangerous protagonists for the rest of us, because the jeans allow anything to happen (all the time wishing, hoping, insisting that everybody should be good), while the jackboots feed on this innocence (gaining from it the assurance that they themselves are invincible). It is not good to be caught in the middle, for the jeans do not believe in hatred, jealousy or aggression, while the jackboots believe in little else.

Ah, but you are saying, "There must be other categories in the world; surely you are overstating!" Well, yes, there is at least one other category. We might call this third category the "jackets," since we are indulging today in alliteration. The jackets are the world's new capitalists, mostly in Asia, and they are filled with vim and vigor. But the jackets do not partake in military power-politics, if only because they are so very busy making money.

And, of course, there are still some of the old-style power arbiters and leaders about, for whom I cannot find a perky name but who upheld for decades the principles of the Western world with moderate, sensible military planning, execution and strategy. The terrible truth behind the jeans -- whether in the Clinton White House or in the halls of the foreign ministries of Europe or in the Third Worldism of the United Nations -- is that the middle-ground, center leaders of traditional principle who led us up to now are giving way to these two categories with their new thinking and imperatives.

Just in case you are unable to recognize the jeans from the jackboots, here are your clues: The jeans will say in their Orwellian way, "We rule nothing out," and the jackboots will say quickly with a smile, "We didn't do it."

Georgie Anne Geyer writes a regular column on foreign affairs.

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