Wednesday, May 31, 2006

That proud culture will be reinforced

Last week I reported on the death of the man who sent Checkers the dog to Richard Nixon. This week another important figure in presidential history has died: Ted Berkman, who wrote “Bedtime for Bonzo.” If he’d written a movie about a chimpanzee that didn’t blow quite as hard, maybe Reagan wouldn’t have been laughed out of the acting profession, George H.W. Bush wouldn’t have been vice president, and... well, you knew where I was going with this the second I said chimpanzee.

Here’s an unbiased headline from the AP: “Uribe’s Re-Election Also a Win for U.S.” It goes on to call Uribe a “law-and-order conservative” (unless you count the amnesty he gave all his death-squad buds). A “win for US” actually means “a triumph... for U.S. policymakers, who some observers say may be losing Latin America to a rising tide of leftist nationalism.” The article is a handy collection of imperialistic assumptions and language: the tide metaphor (the next sentence refers to a wave of leftist governments – possibly the reporter spent the holiday weekend at the beach), the idea that Latin America is something that the US can “lose,” the assumption that Latin American politics is all about us, as seen in the term “leftist nationalism,” nationalism being defined as the belief by Latin Americans that Latin America is not in fact something that the US can “lose.” What else can the US lose? Oil monopolies, of course. Thus, “nationalization of foreign-owned companies” is juxtaposed to “free market reforms.” The second half of the article is where it all falls apart, where it becomes clear that the Bushies don’t know how to turn this election victory into a rising tide of rightist internationalism, other than to point to Colombia repeatedly as a “regional model for the virtues of free trade and friendship with the United States,” much in the same way as the model of Iraqi democracy and freedom will transform the Middle East. How’s that one going again?

Another amusing AP headline: “Bush Offers to Help Catch Rwanda Criminals.” Because he did so well with Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden.

That offer came during a visit to the White House by Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Bush told Kagame, “I’m proud of your leadership.” Proud? In what way is Bush responsible for Kagame’s leadership? Asked about the Rwandan genocide, he utilized his favorite adjective once again: “The interesting thing about Rwanda today is that you have a President who understands that part of a successful society is for people to work hard on reconciliation” (whatever that means). I suppose you have to give him some credit today for test-driving some new adjectives. He described the genocide as a “real tragedy,” which is certainly correct, it wasn’t one of those fake tragedies. And he described it as “one of the most significant tragedies in modern history,” as opposed to one of those insignificant tragedies, I guess. We should all be thankful he didn’t describe it as an “interesting tragedy.” Oh, and Rwanda “can serve as an example for other societies that are troubled,” like, f’rinstance, Iraq. Rwanda, an example. So, first you have a genocide, and then you work hard on reconciliation, is that the game plan?

Asked about the Haditha Massacre, Bush said, “I am troubled by the initial news stories.” We’ve already heard that the first Bush knew of it was four months after the fact, when Time reported on it. It’s now more than 6 months later, and he’s still reacting to “initial news stories”? Isn’t the president of the United States supposed to have other sources of information than old magazines?

He went on, “I know this: I’ve talked to General Pete Pace about the subject, who is a proud Marine, and nobody is more concerned about these allegations than the Marine Corps.” Oh, I don’t know about that. The people of Haditha, they might be a little concerned too. And “if laws were broken” (he is so open-minded about whether the massacre was a legal massacre or an illegal massacre that he says this twice), then “the Marine Corps will work hard to make sure that that culture, that proud culture will be reinforced”. Which I guess means they’ll be writing poems and carving sculptures about it. What he’s doing here, as he did with the Rwandan genocide-followed-by-reconciliation, is welding a happy ending onto this story: sure there were 24 or so civilians killed, but in the end the proud culture is reinforced and we’re all the better for it. It’s like an after-school special but with a higher body count.

Bush, looking oh-so-comfortable as he is asked questions by reporters:

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