Friday, June 08, 2007

The food at the Kempinski’s terrific no doubt. . .

. . . so sang Ella Fitzgerald in her classic Berlinification of Mack the Knife—“the food at the Kempinski’s terrific no doubt”—but don’t tell that to George Bush. That would be George W. Bush, who, if we are to believe reports this morning, has a stomach that reacts to international banquets much like his father’s did. They just don’t fry bologna (or whatever the heck it is this guy considers “real” food) the way they do back home.

Yes, President GW Bush is playing hooky from the G8 this Friday—he says it’s on account of his stomach ache, but I say he’s playing at sick today because yesterday he just got played.

Vladimir Putin gave everybody a lesson on how to stand up to a bullying Bush by countering the American plan to abrogate the ABM treaty and destabilize yet another part of the world with a shrewd offer of his own.

The Bush Administration was angling to put early warning radars on Russia’s doorstep—in Poland and the Czech Republic—as part of the fantasyland boondoggle the guys who don’t believe in science call the “Strategic Defense Initiative,” but you and I affectionately remember it as “Star Wars.” Forget that Bush and his crazy mad brain trust want to risk reigniting the Cold War (can you do that—reignite cold?) on a multibillion dollar scheme that absolutely does not work, and let’s just focus on the not in the least bit accidental side effect that moving towards building this thing—or things that look like they would be this thing if this thing actually were a real thing—has produced: a face-off with a resurgent Russia.

Yep, always jonesing for regime change, no matter how foolhardy and brutally irresponsible, the neo-nut wing of the Republican Party is seeking to recapture the glory of the Reagan years by again beating back the red menace (that they have misread history and overestimated Reagan’s role in the downsizing of the Soviet Union goes without saying). And if you can do so while lining the pockets of your defense industry friends, then all the better!

They know that SDI won’t work—hasn’t to date, never will—but they hope that in rapidly developing it and pushing it right up against Putin’s backside, they can provoke another arms race that will bankrupt and/or destabilize Russia.

Can you imagine a more inaccurate assessment of the current situation?

Russia of the mid-oughts is not the USSR of the mid-eighties. For one, they’re leaner and meaner, with oil and gas reserves that are still underexploited at a time when Middle East oil is past peak and mired in the logistical nightmares of conflict. The wealth that is rapidly accruing from that oil and gas is not only available to fund its own military expansion, it is there to buy influence at a time when the US is strapped for cash. Maybe you can’t make friends with salad, but you sure can with oil.

Further, back in the 1980’s, the USSR was bogged down in an unwinnable conflict with Islamic insurgents—in Afghanistan—now, well, gosh, what a difference a day (or 20 years) makes.

Knowing that they know that we know that they know what we’re up to, the Bush Administration has decided, all-of-the-sudden-like, that this “missile shield” isn’t directed at Russia (how you direct a shield is another thing altogether)—no! Never! We’re doing this to protect ourselves. . . or Europe. . . or ourselves. . . wait, no. . . whatever. . . against the threat—the imagined threat—from Iran. Yeah, that’s it—Iran!

So. . . you’re deploying a nonworking system against a nonexistent threat?

Please ignore the man puking behind the curtain!

OK, where was I? Oh, right. . . So, President Bush thought it would be funny/a political coup to tell Putin to cool his jets because we can make our magic shield protect you Russians, too.

What’s that old Peanuts cartoon about playing chess with a checkers mentality?

Really, as if Putin didn’t likely have the situation gamed-out already, Bush’s bullying combined with his bogus offer really just laid it all on a silver platter. Russia leases an airbase in Azerbaijan that is perfectly placed for monitoring Iranian air-space—what could be easier for Putin than to offer it as a staging ground for the new extra-special x-band radar the US was going to put in the Czech Republic?

This is not meant to be all rah-rah Vladimir—by no means. I think Putin is a frightening figure—despotic, repressive, possibly expansionist, probably brutal—which is what makes the situation we see playing out in the Heiligendamm Kempinski all the more disturbing. The US simply doesn’t have the sort of quality leadership capable of going head-to-head with the Russian president.

Instead, the best we can muster, it seems, is a sort of bull in a china shop approach to our interests. Bush can completely dishonor his host, Angela Merkel of Germany, by derailing the climate change agreement that had been negotiated at lower levels for months, and he can posture about security while acting to make everyone less secure, but the administration is so ideologically constipated that it can’t show up at a high-powered summit with the stomach for the real hard work of international diplomacy. Global warming, nuclear proliferation, Islamic extremism, population control, globalization, immigration, food safety, disease control—just look at what needs to get done on a high-level, multinational scale!

But that’s not what does get done—not when George W. Bush is seated at the dinner table. Instead, time is wasted, face-saving proclamations become placeholders for action, the undemocratizing Russia is allowed to claim the title as grand master of statecraft, and the US president throws up his dinner—if not his hands.

Meanwhile, it is the rest of us that are left feeling ill.

(cross-posted from guy2k)

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