A Cowboy’s Pipedream

Today’s post is less an organized story, than merely the overwhelmed whining of someone seeing the world moving in the wrong direction.

I had planned on questioning George W. Bush’s decision to invite Vladimir Putin to his fathers “compound” in Kennebunkport Maine.

After several months of cooling relations and increasingly heated rhetoric, I found the idea that Bush thinks he can actually accomplish something in a quiet personal atmosphere to be less than realistic. Russia is retreating farther and farther into an isolationist, nationalist position that can best be compared to the position America has taken since Bush first took office; taking unilateral positions on international policies without worrying about whether diplomacy might solve the issue or if the unilateral “solution” might actually make things worse.

While I suspect the two men have much in common personally; I seriously doubt they have much common ground politically.

Take for example Putin’s press conference last week with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, due to take his turn as the EU President in June. As reported in the Washington Post,

Anti-American rhetoric has become a staple of Kremlin-controlled television and many Russian political speeches, a reflection according to analysts of both genuine grievances and a desire to assert Russia’s revival as a world power under Putin. The Kremlin views Western lecturing on democracy in Russia as an attempt to derail Putin’s carefully orchestrated succession plans.

Putin said last week that criticism of human rights is an attempt to make Russia “more pliable” on other issues. “The death penalty in some Western countries — let’s not point fingers, secret prisons and torture exist in Europe, problems with the media in some countries, immigration laws which in some European countries are not in line with the general principles of international law or democratic order — these things, too, fall under common values,” Putin said after meeting with Portugal’s prime minister Tuesday.

He went on to say: “Let’s not talk about having immaculate, white fluffy partners on one side, and on the other a monster who has just come out of a forest with claws and corns growing instead of legs.”

This needs to be put in the perspective of the American insistence on stationing 10 missile defense systems in the Czech Republic and a new radar system in Poland. A move that irritated EU members and prompted Putin to warn “We consider it harmful and dangerous to turn Europe into a powder keg and to stuff it with new weapons.”

Not to be outclassed on new weapons front, the test of a new intercontinental missile was then promptly presented by Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, widely considered to be Putin’s heir apparent. (This was also, might I note, after a failed postponed US anti-missile defense test on May 26th.)

Then I look at the G8 conference planned in Potsdam next week; what could be considered a prelude to the Bush-Putin private snuggle-up.

While largely ignored by the American press, the German newspapers have been filled with reports of measures taken to reduce the “risks” coming from anti-globalization activists. From the time worn tactics like fences, water throwers and increased police presence to new and innovative ideas.

The German Interior Minister, had supported a plan to hack and scan private computers in order to identify “terrorist” (anti-globalization) activities. (Perhaps he got the idea from Alberto Gonzales?) The idea was rejected in early May by the German Supreme Court.

Echoing Putin’s attacks on the West’s “problems with the media,” Spiegel-Online (German) is reporting today that journalists are being denied accreditation to the G8 conference or have their accreditation revoked. In some cases the reasoning seems more than suspicious,

The federal press office surprisingly refused credentials to the G8 press center to a long time editor of the Berlin newspaper taz. The journalist told SPIEGEL ONLINE, that the refusal had been made without giving any specific reason and referred to a corresponding recommendation from the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation* (Bundeskriminalamt, BKA). On inquiry, the BKA refered him to the Berlin State Office of Criminal Invesigation (Landeskriminalamt, LKA). But they were surprised. According to Lee, the LKA finally admitted that the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungsschutz) had raised objections to the accreditation of the journalist.

Lee is responsible for right and left wing extremists and social movements at the taz. In recent weeks he has increasingly reported on the G8 summit.

The LKA had twice investigated him, says Lee. However both times a positive recommendation had been made: “I don’t even have a traffic ticket.” [my translation]

It should be noted that the taz is a left-wing, but largely mainstream newspaper. According to the article, focused around Lee’s plight, at least 20 journalists have been denied access to the summit. Of course German politicians claim that freedom of the press, even a hostile press, is one of the most important rights in democracies. Sounds like America.

While the press policies might impress the American president, Bush has now decided he needs to “lead the world” in combating Global Warming. A move calculated to irritate Angela Merkel who has been pushing for specific limits on CO2 emissions at the G8 next week.

Although the American press is largely reporting that Merkel gave “positive responses” to Bush’s ideas, Merkel is far too political (perhaps polite) to attempt a verbal bushwhacking. People living in Germany often find that Merkel’s methods for political manoeuvring are far more subtle than most male politicians. She either says nice things or says nothing; nevertheless she often gets her way in the end with her opponent sidelined, marginalized and finally forced to do what she planned.

Merkel wants concrete results from the G8 conference, Bush wants to start a new round of talks to delay the process; Merkel has a PhD in Physics, Bush occasionally reads books. Merkel got nowhere with Putin; Bush want a barbeque in Maine.

Interestingly, I would argue the West, not only America but Germany, France and Britian (who, one would assume, will “stay the course” even post-Blair) has approached Russia in recent years. The West has gotten far more authoritarian and repressive. Even as the public and NGO’s point to democratic problems, the politicians, east and west have become far more similar in recent years (see the coverage of the Condi and Sergey show).

Unfortunately the current resurgence of Russian power was largely unexpected by the White House and they seem to be scrambling to react. Perhaps that is the reason why the Iraq Czar was named; to free up Russian expert Rice and National Security Advisor Stephan J Hadley for other international problems.

Finally, does Bush even have the mindset to change things? From Georgie Anne Geyer at the Dallas Morning News in a column about Iraq as a (terror) export nation and describing Bush,

Friends of his from Texas were shocked recently to find him nearly wild-eyed, thumping himself on the chest three times while he repeated “I am the president!” He also made it clear he was setting Iraq up so his successor could not get out of “our country’s destiny.” [Reference to the Rapture perhaps?]

To think that having Putin over for a couple of days, with Rice at the breakfast table in pajamas and perhaps the twins gallivanting on the lawn probably won’t do more than increase the Bush/Putin personal friendship.

Anything else is just a cowboy’s pipedream.

[*Yes, the Germans have lots of investigative offices. In American terms, the BKA is like the FBI for crime, Verfassungsschutz is like the FBI tracking “political” groups (like neo-Nazis and the RAF), Finally the LKA can be seen as a local state police. I hope that clarifies slightly.]

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