Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bush Back Home -- Give Thanks

President Bush returned to the U.S. yesterday following a trip to the Far East. His main objective was to attend the fourteenth annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Meeting held this year in Hanoi, Vietnam. He also stopped in Singapore before and in Indonesia after the APEC meeting.

White House press releases containing comments by Bush and his various counterparts were very short and neutral. In keeping with the purpose of APEC, all the press notices had something on trade. But there were some noteworthy if not eerie moments.

The first occurred in Hanoi just prior to Bush’s meeting with Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet, but its impact was probably felt more in the U.S. than in Hanoi. Under the caption “Bush in Vietnam to Bolster Business Ties,” the Washington Post ran a color photo of Bush, smiling broadly, sitting under a bust of Ho Chi Minh placed before a blood-red background. One could almost hear Ho’s spirit noting that once again, the U.S. was fighting an insurgency for which it was ill-advised and ill-prepared to take on – and one that might well end as did Vietnam.

Another example came when Bush met Chinese President Hu Jintao. The Chinese president remarked that U.S. statistics for the first ten months of 2006 showed a 35 percent jump in U.S. exports to China over the same period in 2005. Bush made no response or acknowledgement of the change. What he did do was endorse Hu’s call for the Chinese to become a nation of consumers instead of savers. Now I’m not an economist, but the professionals in the “dismal science” all seem to worry that the U.S. is a nation of consumers and not savers.

During a photo opportunity with Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard, Bush answered reporters’ questions. Asked about the significance of being in Hanoi, Bush mused: “my first reaction is history has a long march to it.” Indeed so. It’s a bit surprising that some newspaper didn’t run a headline “Bush Finally Gets to Vietnam – 35-plus years Late.” Asked about Iraq, Bush replied “We’ll succeed unless we quit.”

In Jakarta, Bush avoided any comment on troop movements, increases, decreases, or anything to do with Iraq. Facing a number of reports and proposals due in December on the way ahead in Iraq, Bush appeared most intent on not opening any window into his thinking – in particular linking “withdrawal” and “timetable” in any way. His host in this, the largest Islamic country in the world, was not so reticent. President Susili Bambang Yudhoyono advocated a “proper timetable” for U.S. and other coalition forces to disengage from Iraq.

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East, there is a new reality: Iraq and Syria have re-established diplomatic relations after a hiatus of 28 years. U.S. spokespersons seemed less than impressed, noting that 20 percent of the foreign “jihadists” come from Syria.

And in another surprise move, India and China have signed an agrrement to increase civilian nuclear cooperation. Might this be India’s “hedge” against relying exclusively on the U.S.?

Finally, the “turkeys” were pardoned – even though they had never been convicted or even stood trial for any crime.

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