Monday, January 01, 2007

Debasing the Coinage

In the comments section of last night’s post about General Musharraf, the Indian blogger Nitin Pai of The Acorn had this to say:

I hope you realise that this “friend of Freedom” rubbish turns off people in other countries who are otherwise friendly to the United States. Forget Indians, even liberal Pakistanis hate this stuff. The crazies are pissed off anyway. No wonder we hear the “there is no alternative” refrain from smart Americans.

A silver groatNitin, not only do I realize it, but it makes me tear my hair out in frustration.

There is an imperative in American politics that requires us to lionize corrupt apparatchiks, thugs, time-servers, and double-dealers, as if they were paragons of moral rectitude. I recognize this necessity, but George W. Bush has taken it to an embarrassing new level. The florid nonsense that he spouts as a matter of course about foreign leaders makes the average American conservative wince. We all know that he has to pretend, but does it have to be this overblown?

An American president, even if he is of the utmost moral probity, is sometimes required to do business with repugnant people. It goes with the job — to protect the United States and its interests, deals must often be struck with brutal and corrupt foreign leaders.

Normal punctilio requires that the real state of affairs not be publicly acknowledged. But why go all the way to the “true friend of freedom” extreme? Why not have a businesslike relationship? A meeting in the Oval Office, followed by a brief public statement: “I was happy to meet with Generalissimo Thumbscrew. We had productive discussions on issues of mutual interest to our respective countries.”

What’s wrong with that?

This compulsion to paint a halo on thugs and hacks debases the coinage of international political discourse. The “true friend of freedom” sobriquet should be reserved for… well, for true friends of freedom, countries like Australia, Denmark, India, and Britain. Colombia, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine could be “working partners”. As for Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — we need to come up with some new euphemism for sinkholes such as these, one which does less damage to the English language.
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But administration after administration, Republican or Democrat, falls into the same glossolalia of wishful thinking. Who is the intended audience? Not conservatives, who know a flim-flam job when they hear one. And President Bush’s excesses gain him no points with liberals in the media or academia, no matter how high-minded the rhetoric.

And, as Nitin pointed out, literate people in foreign countries are not impressed with such flights of fancy. They know the leaders in question are corrupt and brutal. Americans end up sounding stupid, naïve, or cynical, or a combination of all three.

So why do it? Cui bono?

I admit to bafflement. I can only conclude that our President likes the sound of what he’s saying, and hopes that his saying of it can somehow make it true.

18 comments:

Snouck said...

Thanks Baron.

I really like the way you express your obvious anger in this article.

Good blogging in 2007 and God bless you!

Regards,

Snouck

GeorgeD said...

You are stuck in a leftist mind trap. They only use it to attack people with ideals and values. They never succumb themselves. They constantly highlight the gap between the real and (your) ideal. The intention is to create either a paralysis or a desparate response that is sure to fail. They'll shoot you down either way.

Snap out of it Baron. Don't give them an inch.

Baron Bodissey said...

GeorgeD --

I don't understand your objection. I don't think it's in our best interests to prettify dictators and make them out to be something other than what they are.

I don't give a hairy rat's patootie what the left says about any of this. Their antics are irrelevant to me; most of them have long since gone over to the enemy.

My question is an intra-conservative one: why do we need this pretense?

GeorgeD said...

You are still in the leftist trap of thinking that if we are not completely pure versus our ideals we have failed.

We need to do what we do so that we can achieve a higher objective. The route to our conservative ideals passes through many sewers and swamps. Those that won't take the path because they are afraid of dirt won't get to the end of the road.

GeorgeD said...

What is more no one has been prettified. We live in a free society where you get to call the thugs exactly what they are. No one is fooled by what we say publicly. Even the thug knows that he is a thug and that all he has done is buy himself a little time. Of course the Left is busy pointing out the gap between (our) ideal and reality. It plays well with people with Leftish tendencies but we mustn't let it get to us.

I am not saying that the ends justify the means but I am saying that we often must choose the lesser of two evils.

eatyourbeans said...

But this also has its amusing side. Just as our kremlin watchers once had to examine every syllable of the old Soviet jargon for clues to the politbureau's intentions, so must advisors to our dear, dear friends in Tehran, Moscow, Bejing, etc, etc assess whether "a true friend of freedom" indicates more or less favor on the part of Washington than "committed ally" or "snookums-wookums"

freecyprus said...

Musharraf is not really our thug. We didn't have to twist Pinochet's arm and give him carrots to get him to crack down on the commmunists. It's an alliance of convenience for Musharraf and he won't hesitate to drop the US if he thinks it's in his interest. I hope Bush doesn't really believe what he's saying, but his apparent lack of a well thought-out plan B in case the Iraqi democracy thing (always a longshot) didn't work isn't very reassuring.

Epaminondas said...

Am I the only one who thinks Mushy's book revenue went into a Bahamian, or Swiss account (along with the AQK kickbacks)?

Get real...we HAVE no ally in Pakistan.
They are one the other side.

Musharraf isn't even the 'Shah'.

drummerboy said...

Unfortunately, in the real world, it usually does comes down to the worst of two evils. All Baron is saying is keep it real. I think the business analogy works well.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Why do we do it ? The "great friend of freedom" stuff ?

Because we're an Empire, that can't afford domestically to admit that it is one, and we consequently lack the stones to be out-and-out cold blooded imperialists, out for the national/imperial interest, cutting deals and dealing with who we have to, and making salutory examples out of the odd Saddam or two as necessary.

Instead, we have to cover our half-hearted efforts to do what is necessary under a barrage of words about "democracy building" and "new births of freedom." But nobody is fooled, or believes it, except the occasional President, and all the "nation building" and democracy talk is just used as weapons against us, not least by our own idiot set.

If people want nations and democracies, they are quite capable of building them themselves, thank you very much, and will do so when they're ready to. This need have nothing whatever to do with American security requirements, and the diplomatic and military arrangements necessary to protect them. Sometimes, we help ourselves by encouraging democratic movements; sometimes not.

scrilla said...

um first of all, can you give some examples of govts that openly insult their allies (however temporary) by calling them thugs? it's not unique to america, nor is it only because of internal pressure. if we started calling the brits limp-wristed panzies (hey, it's true), tony blair might not do many more press conferences with gw. more importantly, if you have seen the godfather, you know there is a strategic advantage to letting your enemies think you are retarded. unfortunately, i think gw skipped to godfather III.

if gw had balls he would pull another scene from the godfather and kill all his rivals in russia, china, and islam in one swoop. im not holding out hope on this front either


el jefe, America is NOT an empire. we haven't had the guts for that since the Mexican War, maybe even 1812. (imagine how much better people in Mexico would be today if we had just annexed it!)

Baron Bodissey said...

Scrilla,

You failed to read the post carefully. I don't advocate that our president call Musharraf a "thug", just that he stop with the flowery phrases like "friend of freedom" etc. Those are superfluous and unneccesary, and they're nationally embarrassing.

It's not just Bush. Condi does the same thing with the Saudis, etc., as does Karen Hughes.

I argue for "businesslike", which means skipping the gaudy rhetoric.

No Apology said...

www.ibiblio.org/expo/soviet.exhibit/x2jfk.html

Khrushchev to John F. Kennedy

Dear Mr. President,
Imagine, Mr. President, what if we were to present to you such an ultimatum as you have presented to us by your actions. How would you react to it? I think you would be outraged at such a move on our part. And this we would understand.Having presented these conditions to us, Mr. President, you have thrown down the gauntlet. Who asked you Cuba, as well as our relations with other nations, regardless of their political system, concern only the two countries between which these relations exist. And, if it were a matter of quarantine as mentioned in your letter, then, as is customary in international practice, it can be established only by states agreeing between themselves, and not by some third party. Quarantines exist, for example, on agricultural goods and products. However, in this case we are not talking about quarantines, but rather about much more serious matters, and you yourself understand this.

His Excellency

Mr. John F. Kennedy President of the United States of America

Washington

You, Mr. President, are not declaring a quarantine, but rather issuing an ultimatum, and you are threatening that if we do not obey your orders, you will then use force. Think about what you are saying! And you want to persuade me to agree to this! What does it mean to agree to these demands? It would mean for us to conduct our relations with other countries not by reason, but by yielding to tyranny. You are not appealing to reason; you want to intimidate us.

No, Mr. President, I cannot agree to this, and I think that deep inside, you will admit that I am right. I am convinced that if you were in my place you would do the same..... This Organization [of American States] has no authority or grounds whatsoever to pass resolutions like those of which you speak in your letter. Therefore, we do not accept these resolutions. International law exists, generally accepted standards of conduct exist. We firmly adhere to the principles of international law and strictly observe the standards regulating navigation on the open sea, in international waters. We observe these standards and enjoy the rights recognized by all nations.

You want to force us to renounce the rights enjoyed by every sovereign state; you are attempting to legislate questions of international law; you are violating the generally accepted standards of this law. All this is due not only to hatred for the Cuban people and their government, but also for reasons having to do with the election campaign in the USA. What morals, what laws can justify such an approach by the American government to international affairs? Such morals and laws are not to be found, because the actions of the USA in relation to Cuba are outright piracy. This, if you will, is the madness of a degenerating imperialism. Unfortunately, people of all nations, and not least the American people themselves, could suffer heavily from madness such as this, since with the appearance of modern types of weapons, the USA has completely lost its former inaccessibility.

Therefore, Mr. President, if you weigh the present situation with a cool head without giving way to passion, you will understand that the Soviet Union cannot afford not to decline the despotic demands of the USA. When you lay conditions such as these before us, try to put yourself in our situation and consider how the USA would react to such conditions. I have no doubt that if anyone attempted to dictate similar conditions to you -- the USA, you would reject such an attempt. And we likewise say -- no.

The Soviet government considers the violation of the freedom of navigation in international waters and air space to constitute an act of aggression propelling humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war. Therefore, the Soviet government cannot instruct captains of Soviet ships bound for Cuba to observe orders of American naval forces blockading this island. Our instructions to Soviet sailors are to observe strictly the generally accepted standards of navigation in international waters and not retreat one step from them. And, if the American side violates these rights, it must be aware of the responsibility it will bear for this act. To be sure, we will not remain mere observers of pirate actions by American ships in the open sea. We will then be forced on our part to take those measures we deem necessary and sufficient to defend our rights. To this end we have all that is necessary.

Respectfully, /s/ N. Khrushchev

N. KHRUSHCHEV

Moscow 24 October 1962

------------------------------

We all know how this played out...

No Apology said...

Sorry - the quote somehow got pared down. The first paragraph is as follows.

Imagine, Mr. President, what if we were to present to you such an ultimatum as you have presented to us by your actions. How would you react to it? I think you would be outraged at such a move on our part. And this we would understand.Having presented these conditions to us, Mr. President, you have thrown down the gauntlet.
Who asked you to do this? By what right have you done this? Our ties with the Republic of Cuba, as well as our relations with other nations, regardless of their political system, concern only the two countries between which these relations exist. And, if it were a matter of quarantine as mentioned in your letter, then, as is customary in international practice, it can be established only by states agreeing between themselves, and not by some third party. Quarantines exist, for example, on agricultural goods and products. However, in this case we are not talking about quarantines, but rather about much more serious matters, and you yourself understand this.

Random Axess said...

Freedom is a slippery word. The word freedom can mean different things in different situations. The Nazis for example used the word freedom to mean freedom of Germany to control other nations, so if you mentioned freedom in 1937 to a fellow German this is what they would likely think you were talking about. To a juhadist the word freedom might mean for example freedom to follow Allah and therefore wage Jihad and subjugate women.

The word liberty is much more precise. it generally means the freedom to do what you want with what you have within the limits of what you have, or some other reasonably equivalent definition. Therefore it does not include things like the freedom to murder someone, control them, or steal from them.

Gracchi said...

I like the way you express your anger here- its like what I felt when I heard his absurd I look into your eyes speech regarding Putin- the man is closing down the Russian media now but he is ok because Bush looked into his eyes.

Nitin said...

GeorgeD,

We need to do what we do so that we can achieve a higher objective. The route to our conservative ideals passes through many sewers and swamps. Those that won't take the path because they are afraid of dirt won't get to the end of the road.

Agree. But I think in Musharraf's case, you are up the wrong sewer. :-)

---

One point about lionising dictators that is little considered is what might be termed "cognitive distortion" on the dictator so being lionised. Even the shrewdest dictator may wrongly interpret the signals, perceiving American approval (or connivance) when there is none.

Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait and Musharraf's military offensive against Baloch insurgents (and the decapitation strike against Nawab Bugti), or the deals he struck with the Taliban in Waziristan being cases in point. The former is the cause of so many of our current problems. The latter may be the cause of future ones.

M. Simon said...

Joseph Stalin. The USSR.

Dec. 1941 to Sept. 1945.

Or Uncle Joe as he was known here in that day.