Inside the glass house: by Thalif Deen

14th November 1999

A two-bit dictator from Sri Lanka!

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"My fellow Americans," says Bush, unable to remember either the country he is bombing or the leader under attack," "The bombing of the L-shaped country will continue, until its leader, what's-his-face with the moustache, agrees to something..."

NEW YORK When George W. Bush, the Governor of Texas and Republican front-runner in the upcoming US presidential elections, was unable to name the leaders of India, Pakistan and Chechnya in a newspaper interview last week, he was roasted by the news media for his ignorance on foreign policy issues.

Bush, the son of former US President George Bush, has already come under attack for mistakenly referring to Greeks as Grecians, East Timorese as East Timorians and for failing to distinguish between Slovakia and Slovenia.

A cartoon in the New York Times last week showed the junior Bush, addressing the nation from a future White House, announcing plans to continue bombing Iraq while threatening Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"My fellow Americans," says Bush, unable to remember either the country he is bombing or the leader under attack," "The bombing of the L-shaped country will continue, until its leader, what's-his-face with the moustache, agrees to something..."

In the background are two White House aides, one of whom whispers to the other: "He's misplaced his foreign policy index cards."

But not all American politicians and presidents get their knowledge of foreign affairs from index cards handed over to them by their aides.

The senior George Bush, who was also head of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), US Ambassador to the UN and the American envoy to China, had a prodigious knowledge of foreign affairs in marked contrast to his son who, incidentally, holds a Bachelor's Degree from Yale University and a Master's from Harvard Business School.

Last week, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd provided an insight into the senior Bush's passion for foreign policy.

A Bush White House official was quoted as saying: "You couldn't get him to an education briefing with Lamar Alexander (then Secretary of Education), but he'd spend three days with some two-bit dictator from Sri Lanka."

A two-bit dictator from Sri Lanka?

The White House official was obviously dead wrong in reducing Sri Lanka to the status of a Latin American banana republic even though his off-the-cuff remark may have been a throw-away line uttered in lighter vein in the great tradition of Groucho Marx.

But it may also prove that when a US president is smart on foreign affairs, his officials may be dumb.

Meanwhile, as the campaign for the the US presidential elections, scheduled for November 2000, gets off the ground, one of the foreign policy issues high on the agenda is the United Nations.

The right wing conservatives in the American political spectrum have continued to master the fine art of bashing the UN for all its perceived faults and weaknesses.

But in the process, they keep getting their facts wrong or their political signals mixed up either by design or by accident.

If the US, currently the largest single contributor and the largest single defaulter, does not cough up about $300 million by the end of the year, it faces the ultimate humiliation of losing its vote in the 188-member General Assembly.

But Pat Buchanan, the ultra conservative Reform Party candidate for the US presidency, last month lambasted Secretary-General Kofi Annan accusing him of threatening the US with the loss of vote if it didn't pay its arrears.

And in turn, Buchanan threatened the Secretary-General with loss of the lease on the property on which the 39-storeyed UN building now stands by the East River in New York.

If Annan deprived the US of its voting rights, Buchanan said he would make sure the already-penniless UN was homeless as well.

The accusation against Annan played well with right wingers such as Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who think the UN is not only working against the national interests of the US but also beating up on the US whenever it can.

But Buchanan, a TV talking head and a wordsmith with an incredible command of the English language perhaps acquired from his days at the Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, got his facts mixed up.

"For the record Pat," says UN spokesman Fred Eckhard, "the Secretary-General has nothing to do with it. The UN Charter says in Article 19 that the loss of vote is automatic once a member state falls behind by two years or more."

"As for the lease, there is none," said Eckhard setting the record straight. "We own this land, thanks to a gift by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and land transfers from the City of New York."

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