John Chuckman

On Friday, February 14, the Foreign Minister of France, M. de Villepin, gave a remarkable speech to the U.N. Security Council. The precision and force of reason with which he put France’s case concerning Iraq were nothing less than astonishing.

Not long after M. de Villepin’s speech, perhaps hoping to catch a hint of George Bush’s ferocious anger over developments at the U.N., CBC Radio broadcast the first part of the President’s words at the opening of a new FBI facility. They proved standard, post 9/11 us-and-them boiler-plate with no reference to developments at the U.N., but even in this workaday task, the President conveyed the annoying simplicity of his thinking and managed yet again to use the wrong word at least once.

Who can stand listening to this man? America is such a vast country and despite its waddling platoons in suspenders stretched sideways like buckling bridge supports and its huge clutches of blinking mascara under chicken-head hair-dos, it still has a remarkable number of decent people and educated, critical minds. How is it possible for them to listen to this man who couldn’t earn a living demonstrating vacuum-cleaners in Wal-Mart?

It is not just that Bush mumbles and slurs words and speaks with the irritating cadence of a store-front preacher looking to the collection plate for his next square meal. It’s not just that he makes insultingly-broad claims that leave no room for investigation, doubt, or negotiation. It’s not just that he regularly uses the wrong words, making many of his speeches resemble parodies or Monty Python skits.

It’s the utter nothingness of his thought, the slap-in-the-face, stinging quality of a greatly-privileged person who has nothing to say but lacks the grace to avoid saying it. Listening to him suggests what it must have been like living under sixteenth-century princes whose word remained unquestioned despite crushing evidence of excessive inbreeding.

He should be an embarrassment to the people of the United States, but it is the voices of intelligence and reason like those of M. de Villepin or Mr. Blix that are vilified in the American press. The absurdly nasty, intellectually feeble Mr. Bush remains largely untouched.

How, too, does one explain the behavior of Britain’s Prime Minister towards this odd creature? Mr. Blair is well-educated, articulate, and, by all accounts, a fierce power broker inside his party. So why does he come off looking and sounding for all the world like Bush’s perfectly-deferential, live-in butler? I can’t help thinking of Anthony Hopkins serving a candlelight dinner to Doctor Frankenstein’s creature, as it grunts and grimaces and occasionally has to be calmed to avoid ripping the seams of its suit while spasmodically waving its arms.

Yet Blair genuinely seems taken with this tongue-twisted, boring fundamentalist whose idea of a good time is throwing another cow on the barbeque.

But I think back to Mrs. Thatcher, one of the most formidable personalities on the world’s political stage during the second half of the Twentieth century, and her sickening fawning over Ronald Reagan, a charming man who liked jellybeans and shining cities on hills, and was good at selling Chesterfield cigarettes. Blair’s demeaning performance is not new.

And then I reflect on one of the strangest, most fascinating episodes of modern history, the British spies – the Cambridge circle of Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, and Anthony Blunt, not to mention John Cairncross and the atomic spies Klaus Fuchs and Alan Nunn May – who during the 1940s and ’50s gave away all America’s atomic secrets and pretty well everything else they could lay their hands on. The damage was devastating to America’s ego and to relations with Britain. The full truth and full list of characters are not known to this day, but even in Mrs. Thatcher time, important bits, like Anthony Blunt’s role, still were being revealed.

I’m convinced Mr. Blair’s odd, servile behavior, and Mrs. Thatcher’s before him, can only be explained in light of the terrible anger and hostility of America’s establishment at these betrayals. The Atlantic Alliance was seriously damaged at a time when it meant something. Mr. Blair sees himself as doing heroic work in holding it together at a time when it means a great deal less.

Britain can never quite make up its mind about Europe. It wants to be part, but it wants to be a different kind of part, and with the disappearance of its empire after the war, it is only the connection with America that makes it a different kind of part. Mr. Blair seems intent on holding on to this, even though geography and economics argue for Britain’s becoming a fully-integrated part of Europe.

As for the first great mystery, the answer to that came in an e-mail from a friend in Maine. In response to one of my cartoons sent round, she wrote that she was planning to take her kids to Disney World and she prayed there would be no terrorist alerts. The point of the cartoon had been missed entirely. It was a striking graphic, almost iconic, and it concerned America’s rush to kill people in Iraq. But she missed that, equating her concern over a possible terror alert at Disney World with the certain, incomparable destructive horror awaiting people in Baghdad.

Why are otherwise intelligent and decent Americans not repelled by George Bush? Because they are afraid as they have not been in a very long time, and fear itself is a form of madness. America’s mainstream media do nothing to put this fear into perspective – instead, they feed the frenzy with idiotic rumors and disparage those with something reasonable to say.

We have Mr. bin Laden, in part, to thank for that, but as Mr. Bush hurls himself into attacks and threats against half a dozen countries, he has still largely failed to get at the authors of America’s fear. Far more importantly, the deeper cause of America’s fear and bin Laden’s action is the long-term impact of some of the country’s destructive, indescribably selfish foreign policies, but Mr. Bush’s unblinking response is only to push even harder those same destructive policies.


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