Monday, April 17, 2006

The secretary and her 'good friend' the ogre

Powerful countries often use high-minded rhetoric as a camouflage to justify decisions based solely on self-interest. This is not new. European colonialism was always justified with rationaliziations like 'The White Man's Burden' or 'la mission civilisatrice,' the civilizing mission. Those sounded a lot nobler than the more accurate 'Pillage of Asia's and Africa's natural resources via violence and forced labor.'

The US aggression against Iraq was no different. We were told it was about liberty, not about installing the beginnings of American economic dominance in the region. It was nicknamed 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' not 'Operation Seize the Oil' or 'Operation Dump the Guy Who Said Our President's Mama Wears Combat Boots.'

A noble pretense makes it a lot easier for people to swallow their doubts and get behind a war which they might consider dodgy. Even if 'pacification' becomes difficult, and they usually do in such colonial missions, the noble pretense allows people to say after the fact, "At least we meant well."

(Even though this self-delusion is morally untenable)

Yet, the noble pretense can become problematic: someone might take you seriously. They might not be aware that the noble pretense is meant as a one-time only deception rather than a universal rule. 'In this case...' undermines the strength of the noble pretense so it's usually omitted.

When someone does take your noble pretense seriously, it can make you look like a hypocrite. Those who subscribe to the noble pretense school typically denounce those who prefer realpolitik. But at least realpolitik isn't dishonest.

President Bush famously denounced the 'Axis of Evil' (according to him: Iran, Saddam's Iraq and North Korea). Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice added a collorary 'Outposts of Tyranny' which she identified as two remaining 'Axis of Evil' regimes along with Cuba, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Burma. Those six countries no doubt deserve condemnation for their lamentable human rights' records.

So it was thus interesting to read the blog of Foreign Policy magazine commenting on the recent meeting between Rice and the tyrant in charge of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Sec. Rice and her 'good friend' Obiang were to have a full set of discussions about [their] bilateral relationship, about some innovative social programs that USAID is involved with and about the range of regional issues that [they] both confront.

Parade magazine ranked Obiang as the world's tenth worst dictator. This is fairly generous as I'd put him in the top (er... bottom?) four.

I wonder if Equatorial Guinea's nightmarish human rights' record (which is significantly worse than Robert Mugabe's 'outpost of tyranny' but without the bluster) was part of the talks. Given the country's position as one of Africa's emerging oil exporters, I doubt the set of discussions between the secretary and her 'good friend' were that 'full.'

(Interestingly, the FP piece noted that while the mainstream media ignored the meeting between one of America's top diplomat and one of the world's worst dictators, the blogosphere, so often derided by self-described serious journalists, was right on top of the story. This demonstrates yet again that the mainstream media only follows foreign stories according to the administration of the day's priorities. Accordingly, in the press conference preceding the Rice-Obiang tete-a-tete, journalists asked questions about Iran but not a single one about Equatorial Guinea. They probably didn't have a clue where Equatorial Guinea is, let alone the fact that they were standing before one of the world's worst dictators.)


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