Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bread and butter issues of diplomacy

I was struck by George Bush's curious idea of diplomacy, revealed in the now-famous open-mike slip-up, when he said with his mouth full of bread and butter to the waiter at his table, Tony Blair, that "they need to get Hezbollah to stop this shit."

It's unclear who "they" are. Commentators have suggested Kofi Annan or Vladimir Putin or Syria or Iran. After I listened to Bush make that remark over his shoulder in his offhand fratboy manner to Blair, I once again realized what a vacant, dangerous fool our president is. Whoever Bush was talking about, the fact that the head of the United States government expects that somehow, somewhere, someone needs to address the problem, and that that someone was not Mr. Bush, is unsettling. You'd think I'd get used to being unsettled by now.

There is a widespread wish-fulfillment belief that whatever stupid things Bush may say or do, that behind the curtain grownups are actually running the country--that if Bush is the organ-grinder's monkey, then Dick Cheney, he of the Bell's-palsy-esque snarl and the hair-trigger shotgun, is the guy cranking the barrel-organ. That's not reassuring and as far as I can tell it's not true.

Bush is after all the President, and he is always at pains that no one should forget it.

People have often remarked on Bush's apparent authority issues, his truculence and belligerence, his conflation of bargaining with weakness and compromise with personal defeat, his inability to admit error, to change direction, or in any way snap out of a 5-year long temper tantrum which is all the more unseemly in that the tantrum is not a product of his failing to get his way, but rather of his awareness that some of us disagree that his way should be gotten. All of these personal flaws not only render good government at home difficult, they guarantee disaster abroad, as we see in Iraq, and increasingly in Afghanistan, where Bush once could have declared mission accomplished (well, except for the unresolved matter of bin Laden) and not have been laughed at.

And now, of course, since Bush refuses to negotiate with our enemies, and need not negotiate with our remaining friends, when he can wave a piece of buttered bread at a hand-wringing Tony Blair who will nod and grin agreeably, we are left with no possibility of being an honest broker ourselves (or even a dishonest one,) in the current Lebanese troubles, and the world is left with no broker of any kind who could make a difference. Mr. Bush refuses to talk to Hezbollah, or to Syria, or to Iran, or to Hamas, or as far as I can tell, to the Israelis. Instead Mr. Bush talks--with a mouth full of food--to Mr. Blair, whose fear-grimace in photo-ops with Mr. Bush has now become so familiar. Presumably Bush expects Blair to relay the orders from the White House to the vaguely designated "them" who will then--do what?

For all of the flaws of the Clinton White House, I miss a guy who was actually competent and who actually understood what diplomacy was about, and whose diplomacy really did something that at least in a small way--a way that could have been a beginning--ameliorated the conflict between Israel and its neighbors.

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