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     Volume 5 Issue 118 | November 3, 2006 |

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Food for Thought

The Showman versus the Show-offs

Farah Ghuznavi

Bush -- the world's biggest bully.

The last couple of months have been pretty eventful at the United Nations, with a fair bit of political theatre thrown in alongside the more mundane negotiations and crises that make up the organisation's daily existence. While the North Korean missile tests inevitably dominated the headlines, and created panic in the region, there was also some light entertainment on offer.

The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, raised more than a few hackles in his address to the UN in late September. Highlights included his accusations that the US government was engaging in a system "of exploitation, of pillage, of hegemony through war", and his characterisation of President Bush as the devil. "Yesterday the devil came here..." he announced, crossing himself, "And it smells of sulphur still today"!

Whatever you may think of Chavez (and some of the company he keeps), it is hard not to feel that this may have been one of the liveliest sessions the UN has seen in quite some time! Not to mention that there is something rather fitting about President Bush - who is so fond of righteous biblical rhetoric himself - being on the receiving end of such a diatribe (after all, if you're going to dish it out so generously, you should also be able to take it)...!

But Chavez also had a few valid points to make, points which have resonance with more than the usual anti-Bush camp. There are many who find the post-Cold War world and the emergence of a single global power worrying; as Lord Acton said," Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And from paedophile Republican Congressmen to the financial misdemeanours of Halliburton et al in Iraq, the moral and material corruption of the current administration is as frightening as it is pervasive.

Elements of the Venezuelan president's speech touched on those fears, albeit with some degree of dramatic flair - "Yesterday... the President of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world...The world parent's statement - cynical...full of this imperial hypocrisy from the need they have to control everything".

For those who identified with Arundhati Roy's characterisation of herself as a slave of the American Empire, the anger expressed in Chavez' speech is all too familiar. Even more so, some of the questions he went on to raise i.e. that if the US and its allies want to facilitate the spread of democracy and freedom, they seem to go about it in the strangest - and predictably ineffective - ways! Indeed for those of us who would like to see genuine democracy and freedom in different parts of the world, it is enough to drive the most optimistic person to despair.

Hugo Chavez unabashedly accused Bush of being a hypocrite.

With the arrival of the junior Bush at the White House some years ago, it was as if the world saw a sudden and almost inexplicably negative shift in the nature and style of US foreign policy - a radical shift from the more consensual, and many would say more effective approach of the Clinton administration. Whatever is said about the changed global environment in the post September 11 era, the fact is that the change in the US government's approach to the world was evident well before that.

And to take just one example, the abrupt and highly hostile characterisation of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the "axis of evil" - like so many other neocon "innovations" - proved to be more counter productive than anything else. After a decade-long period of (very) gradually normalising relations with Iran, this offensive rhetoric not only undid whatever progress had been achieved, it also served to marginalise internal reformers within that country. Indeed, many believe that it strengthened the hands of the hardliners, contributing to Ahmedinejad's subsequent electoral victory, and hardening Iran's determination to develop nuclear capability.

In the case of North Korea, where nuclear proliferation had been largely contained through a carefully calibrated series of negotiations by the Clinton administration, this rhetoric provided a notoriously (mentally and otherwise!) unstable, highly unpredictable regime with an incentive to push ahead with their nuclear programme. The incentive became even clearer when the appallingly cynical manipulation of so-called intelligence (claiming the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq) was used to justify the invasion and occupation of that country. After all, if the situation was interpreted as being that the country least advanced in terms of its nuclear weapons capability was invaded first, then logic dictated that the existence of actual nuclear capability might indeed function as a deterrent to invasion!

As for the wider-ranging implications of the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq itself, there seems little doubt that the country which was to have been a "model" for democracy in the Middle East has descended into chaos and anarchy, sectarian conflict and civil war. Each day brings fresh bad news, coalition claims of progress ringing ever more hollow.

The recent leak of a classified US intelligence paper on the effects of the Iraq war has confirmed the worst suspicions of many that this particular foreign-policy disaster has spawned a whole new global generation of radicalised militants, who are expected to foment further radicalism and violence when they return to their countries.

So we will all be paying the price for this particular neocon experiment. And it is little consolation to have the report confirm one's suspicions that while (as President Bush claims) Iraq may now indeed be the central front in America's "war on terrorism", it is a front of the US government's own making...

To quote the inimitable Mr. Chavez, "They say they want to impose a democratic model. But that's their democratic model... the false democracy of elites...imposed by weapons and bombs... What type of democracy do you impose with Marines and bombs?" Indeed, can a democratic model ever be “imposed” whatever happened to “by the people, of the people, for the people”?

In the midst of the carnage and killing that has resulted from an illegal war in Iraq, it is hard to find much hope for the future. For all its shortcomings, the UN and its Secretary General were among the few voices to provide any real opposition to the war. With the approval of the consensual (i.e. compliant !) South Korean candidate as the next Secretary General, even that voice of reason is likely to be silenced - much to the relief of bullies like John Bolton, the current US representative to the UN.

At this rate, all we will have to look forward to in the next few years of UN-watching is the occasional turn of a showman like Chavez, who at least has the nerve and the flair to take on the show-offs and bullies who think they own the world...



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