Monday, June 11, 2007

Bush Goes To Albania

In the darkest days of his presidency, Richard Nixon escaped to foreign countries. As the noose tightened around his political neck, he felt much more comfortable in the company of Leonid Brezhnev than with anyone in his own government; happier reveling in the contrived public celebrations of the dutiful Soviet citizenry than daring to darken his own American streets.

It is much more of a stretch for Junior Bush to come up with a friendly foreign place. Say what you will about Nixon (and I will if you don’t), he knew the difference between diplomatic delicacy and the kind of dangerous ham-fisted international brinkmanship practiced by Bush and his team. Even with a superior doomsday nuclear arsenal pointed at the Soviets, Nixon knew not to make too much of it. He didn’t bluster; he negotiated as best he could with a more dangerous "enemy" than al-Qaeda will ever be. The result was an uneasy but effective detente and, more importantly, a place for Nixon to hide when he needed a warm-welcome pick-me-up.

If Junior has any thought of ditching to "friendly" countries as he winds up his disastrous tour as president, the pickings will be slim indeed. Sure, he could always find a cozy desert tent in Saudi Arabia, as long as he and the unpopular king don’t try to walk around in public. If he wants a friendly reception in Old Europe, he better haul ass over to Britain before Blair hits the road. All told, there are many more counties in this pissed-off world that would just as soon arrest George Bush as invite him to dinner.

But, according to press reports, our Boy President seems to have bought a friend in Albania. A charter member of the Coalition of the Shilling, Albania cleaned its drab streets, brought out red-white-and-blue bunting and even put out a commemorative stamp of Junior’s face, certainly a first-and-only for the soon-to-be trash-bin-of-history embarrassment. "Bush is the president of the world. He is like a king to me," gushed a confused 18 year-old Albanian, no doubt reading Cheney's press releases and trying a bit hard to please. Bush complied with the near-child’s lofty view of himself, proclaiming that his support for the independence of Kosovo (an important issue because that country has a majority of ethnic Albanians) in terms familiar to Americans who have had to tolerate his unearned arrogance for over 6 years: "The question is whether there's going to be endless dialogue on a subject we've already made up our mind on," proclaimed Bush, making me want to take the other side immediately. What’s all this mindless chatter? So it is written, so let it be done.

It’s hard to see why Albania would want to become (even more of) an international laughingstock by joining the George Bush Fan Club (membership: one). They have a goal of joining the European Union – yeah, like that’s gonna happen now. Apparently, the post-Cold War Albanians got close to the U.S. after Bill Clinton intervened in Serbia. Nobody told them, I suppose, that Bush is the Anti-Clinton, both by design and by destroying everything that Clinton – and the 41 presidents before him – built up over the years in international respect and influence.

Prime Minister Sali Berisha said Bush was Albania's "greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times." Wow. Doesn’t say much for Albania, does it? Maybe they should start inviting some Hollywood stars over – you know, liven the place up a bit.

But, hey, even bad presidents need a place to get away once in a while. Albanians can look forward to seeing a lot of Bush in 2008 since he won’t be needed around here much – he certainly will not be campaigning for GOP candidates, who would just as soon make his ticket to Albania one-way.

7 comments:

patrick said...

It is an important point to consider if Al-Qaeda is more dangerous that the former Soviet Union. On the one hand, the old Soviet leaders wanted power and wanted to maintain it by restricting freedoms. I'm sure you'll see a lot of "junior" in that. Anyway, the Soviets at least saw themselves as charged with protecting their people--if nothing more, then as a base for power. Likewise, they acted with a certain loyalty to traditions and moral standards which, if they were not Western, at least resembled the traditions and institutions of the west. Al-qaeda is a much different beast. They owe no loyalty to any people or state or larger community. Al-qaeda is only interested in its own corrupt ideal, and unlike the Soviet Union at its worst, Al-qaeda will not hesitate to destroy without mercy any who stand in its way. Remember the terrible days of M.A.D.? even this insane system functioned under the premise that both sides valued life and their citizens. Further, it worked because each side knew where to find the other. Neither of these premises is true in the case of Al-qaeda. To them, there are no innocents, only believers and infidels. For believers, martyrdom is a reward; for infidels, a punishment. They rejoice in slaughter, we disdain it. This is why they may, in fact, be more dangerous. Since we are a society which struggles with the ideas of life and justice and freedom--as seen here in your blog and others like it--we are unable to respond effectively to ruthlessness. This is also because we are not ruthless. Not even Bush.

You can bet that the weakling europeans are contemplating the new equasion right now too. Part of their frustration and resentment towards America is a reflection of europe's overwhelming weakness. If the Twin Towers had fallen in Berlin, could the Germans have stormed Afganistan? Obviously not. So while they sell arms to dictators they are unable to arm themselves. They disdain unilateral action because they are incapable of it. Europe's defense depends on America, yet they are unwilling or unable to change that situation. Putting aside an increasingly scary Russia for the moment, we must note that Al-qaeda is a much greater threat to europe than to America because of this weakness. While we have to fight through our values to hit back, europe can't hit back at all. So while they might like to criticize America and hold their little peace marches from time to time, in the end they know their self-interest depends on us. Think of them as kids who can't afford to move out of Daddy's basement.

Bush and rethug bashing aside, what do you think?

Mike Plaisted said...

Patrick:

You picked an interesting thing to discuss out of this post -- I had just sort of tossed it out as an aside. But, I still think it's true that the danger we face from al-Qaeda is far less than that we faced at the height of the Cold War, or at any other time, from the Soviets or, for that matter, Russia past and present.

The Soviet Union was born of an intense and (yes) popular revolution. Its sphere of influence was greatly enhanced by its successful fight (with us and our allies) and (yes) sacrifice against the Nazis. At one point, it had thousands of nuclear missles pointed at targets all over the United States, on a hair trigger. Nuclear war and the total obliteration of all life on the planet was barely avoided during the Cuban missle crisis and probably at numerous other times.

The Soviet Union had the power of its people, its land mass, its ideology (for some) and its military. Al-Qaeda only has whatever power we foolishly give it by giving them legitimacy and by setting the stage for their madness by acting like fools in the world.

At the time of its attack on the Twin Towers, al-Qaeda's issues were all domestic to the Muslim world. They didn't like our bases in Saudi Arabia and our support for Israel, which at the time was blind support for all-Sharon-all-the-time. They were a bunch of marginalized, criminal punks, high on religion and themselves.

Bin Laden could never have dreamed how successful their attack on the Towers would be. By declaring the reaction to this brilliant criminal attack a "war", invading Iraq, creating Guantanamo, sending people to secret prisons, raiding phone and bank records, etc., al-Qaeda has been played into a major threat and its leaders are heroes to many in the world.

Bush says that we are in a generational "battle of ideologies", but there is no ideology over which to battle. It's not like they are trying to convert anyone, or could if they tried. They just want Muslims to act like they think they should in their part of the world. They have no plan or hope to take over our country -- they just want us out of what they consider theirs (and to overthrow the monarchies in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, etc.)

They are a threat to random individuals here -- if they can find a way to get at us, which they will -- because a) their last stunt worked so well, due to Bush's foolishness, b) their thousands of new followers are inspired by the "light of the just" and c) they are, ultimately, powerless, "terrorism" being the last refuge of the powerless.

To say that al-Qaeda is anywhere near as dangerous to us as Soviets with aimed nuclear weapons is ludicrous.

patrick said...

Mike:

I concede you're right about the Cuban Missile Crisis, but even this episode underscores the natural restraint and desire to avoid the nightmare of nuclear war. Al-qaeda, once it acquired nuclear weapons would not think twice. After the mushroom cloud appeared over New York who would we strike? Would we bring the same destruction to... where. The cuban missile crisis ended because each side understood the consequences and shared those consequences.

You say: "At the time of its attack on the Twin Towers... They were a bunch of marginalized, criminal punks, high on religion and themselves." This clearly ignores the first attack on Twin Towers, the bombings of embassies in Kenya, the attack on the Cole(?), and the Kobe (sp) towers in Saudi Arabia. These attacks demonstrate warlike intentions, persistence, and operational know-how. Likewise, all of these occured during the Clinton period, long before Bush would turn the world against us. Long before Bush could do much to inflame the homicidal muslims against us. (I know not all muslims are Homicidal, many just sit quietly like the good people of 1939 Germany) My point isn't really to bash Clinton--I voted for him twice and gore once. The point is that few at that time saw the danger. Clinton, however, didn't see the terrorists as criminals, he launched cruise missiles at them, not subpoenas.

See, they were already a major threat to us and already heroes to their own depraved people.

As far as Gitmo and "secret prisons" are concerned, our worry about these is a reflection of our ideology, one of peace and tolerance. We should, however, be more worried about the fact that all the prisons of Al-qaeda are secret. I'm sure you read the recent descriptions of the torture chambers discovered while looking for those three brave soldiers taken prisoners. Remember Daniel Pearle? What was his crime? Their actions reflect their ideology.

Terrorism might be the last refuge of the powerless, except that it has a nasty habit of creating instability and regime change. Lets imagine an immediate pull-out from all our middle east bases. Isn't it likely that then the terrorists would then be free to focus on the governments of Saudi-Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq and the rest. (like you mention) Maybe ten or fifteen years down the road, the terrorists would establish their Muslim Holy Empire. Would they stop there? Obviously not. Most likely, they would intervene to protect muslims in lands which were once muslim--france, parts of germany, spain.

Finally, we have to note that the past is the past. The war has begun. With the soviet union negociation was systematic and regular. In the muslim world, there is nobody with whom we could negociate.

Thanks.

Mike Plaisted said...

I see...the Islamic Domino Theory. Saudi Arabia, Paskistan, Iraq...then it jumps to white Europe? How's that? All those countries might be theocracies at some point -- they would be as already if they were really democratic -- but al-Qaeda will always be nothing but a fringe group. Look what's happening in the Iraq civil war, where the dominant groups are going after the punks calling themselves "al-Qaeda in Iraq" (not affiliated with bin Ladin, by the way, and he can't sue for trademark infringement) because they are a murderous pain in the ass.

Let's say the whole Middle East goes Muslim -- who says they "can't stop there"? Like all religious nuts, they want their holy places and they want their goofy ways and they want to be left alone.

Is it possible someone might blow up a dirty bomb in a U.S. city? Sure. And, guess what -- there is nothing we can do to stop it, if they are determined and smart enough. There are ways to make it more likely, and Bush has most of that covered by creating more innocent victims and guilty martyrs in Iraq and elsewhere.

Anyone with any sense knows that there is one particular form of negotiation that would take the temperature down all over the world, and that is to get Israel negotiate an honest, permanent peace and end its occupation of the Palestinians. Until that happens, they are at the most risk and we will have people pissed enough about our blind support for them to take big and little shots at us.

Like I said before, al-Qaeda only has as much power as we choose to give them.

patrick said...

Mike:

I think it is a mistake to believe that all that needs to happen to begin a search for real peace in the middle-east, and to take the wind out of Al-qaeda is to pressure Israel to make further concessions. I’m sure you’ll note that Israel has already withdrawn from the overwhelming majority of territories it captured in the wake of Arab wars of aggression. They have kept the terms of the recent “peace treaties” and have been met with suicide bombings—mostly of civilians—and the capture of their soldiers. The soldiers whose capture sparked the recent military action have not been returned even though their return was promised by the Hamas government as a condition of the recent cease-fire. What more would you have them do?

Israel is a representative democracy. They enjoy freedom of the press, religion, assembly; they are likewise an excellent example of equality of the sexes. Their citizens are well-educated and largely self-reliant. At times they petition their government for peace and restraint, at other times, for war. Our support for Israel is not blind, but is a recognition of its contributions and potential to contribute to the world community.

The Palestinians, like the Israelis, have a history of oppression, but their homeland was taken from them long before Israel by Jordan, Syria, and Egypt. They were the victims of ethnic cleansing in these other countries long before the U.N. mandates created the state of Israel. To the Arab world, Israel is the excuse for all failings of their own societies; it is the distraction, not the problem. But their election of a Hamas government certainly demonstrates how terrorist organizations gain control of states. Al-qaeda could likewise do the same in Iraq.

I don’t know why you cling to the notion that Bush has created the conditions for strife. Al-qaeda is ruled by warlords who exploit poverty and a religion of endless war to drive the current conflict. War gives them authority which they couldn’t maintain in peace; therefore, they must always be at war. As far as claiming that Al-qaeda has only as much power as we give them, that is like claiming drugs are only a problem if we pay attention to them.

Either way, I’ve enjoyed this exchange—civil as it has been. Let me ask you this: Which book on the post-9/11 world scene has influenced you most? For me, the answer is Robert Kaplan’s Warrior Politics. What’s your recommendation?

EddyPo said...

I thought I'd jump in here and offer a recommendation. It's not a book, but rather a documentary that has influenced much of my post 9-11 thinking. The BBC put out a 3-part series entitled "The Power of Nightmares". I believe you can download the entire thing for free somewhere, or at least you used to.

I came away from this documentary feeling like the neocons and Al-qaeda are really two sides of the same coin. In fact when you wrote:

War gives them authority which they couldn’t maintain in peace; therefore, they must always be at war

I thought that could equally define the neocons who are now driving our foreign policy.

Anonymous said...

Anyone with any sense knows that there is one particular form of negotiation that would take the temperature down all over the world, and that is to get Israel negotiate an honest, permanent peace and end its occupation of the Palestinians....

OK, I'll take the senseless position. Note, first, that your basic argument minimizes the jihadi threat: it is essentially, you say, a localized dispute ("al-Qaeda's issues were all domestic to the Muslim world"; "they want their goofy ways and they want to be left alone"; "al-Qaeda only has as much power as we choose to give them"). Fine; why, then, ignore your own prescription and make the Israeli-Palestinian dispute a threat to world peace?

That said, your analysis of the problem (implicitly: Israeli intransigence) is questionable at best. There's a very long history to this dispute, over a century and counting, and at every critical juncture the Zionists have offered compromise, the Palestinians have taken the rejectionist road. And whatever the revisionists might say about the 2000 Camp David/Taba offer, it's abundantly clear that Arafat walked away from an offer of statehood.

Forget history, though. What, exactly, is the "honest, permanent peace" offer Israel should extend to Hamastan? Other, that is, than a suicide pact. The Hamas charter is explicitly genocidal and supports absolutely no possibility of negotiated solution. (And no, Fatah isn't an improvement, just less blatant.)

Interestingly, you may be more right than you think, if for the wrong reasons: the conflict between Israel and what some like to call "Palestine" has great spill-over potential. But that is because of Iranian designs, which are both apocalyptic and imperialistic. Hamas, Hezbollah and the Alawite Syrian mafia are stalking horses for Iran. Why choose their side, the side of war, gender apartheid, imperialism and genocide?

-- Bill Tyroler