Showing posts with label George W Bush. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George W Bush. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

America didn't listen to France

It has just been revealed publicly, in the prestigious daily newspaper Le Monde, that the DGSE [French secret service] submitted to the CIA chief in Paris, on 5 January 2001 (eight months before the destruction of the Twin Towers), a precise report concerning the threat of aircraft hijacking by Al-Qaeda terrorists. This note even included an organizational chart of the senior Al-Qaeda hierarchy.

Since France had been the target of terrorist attacks at an early date, French intelligence concerning Oussama Ben Laden was far in advance of US knowledge in this domain. The report sent to the CIA by the DGSE mentioned seven airlines that might be targeted by Al-Qaeda hijackers, and this list included the two that were finally chosen: American Airlines and United Airlines. The January 2001 report spoke of timing, explaining that the hijacking project, initially prepared for 2000, had been postponed.

Bush invaded Iraq without paying attention to warnings from France concerning the grave consequences of such an idiotic act. Today, we learn retrospectively that, well before Iraq, ignoring French advice had already become a style of foreign affairs "thinking" in the USA. It would be well, I feel, if this situation were to evolve soon in a positive sense.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Mixed messages

When speaking, we often quote other people's words, or use expressions that, if written, would be surrounded by inverted commas. Some speakers, whenever they do so, have developed the habit of holding up their hands and twitching a couple of fingers on each hand, to represent visually the inverted commas. Although I like and employ natural hand movements of all kinds during conversations (a Mediterranean habit), this relatively recent "twitch twitch" mannerism always irritates me, because it glares out as an acquired quirk, rather than a spontaneous gesture. Now I realize that I shouldn't be irritated by the "twitch twitch" thing, because it's a pure example of the acquired behaviors known as memes, which I referred to in an earlier post whose title was Imitation. Basically, a meme is an act that individuals encounter by chance and then imitate impulsively. So, there must be something in the "twitch twitch" mannerism that urges viewers to do the same thing.

In France, over recent years, a popular hybrid verbal/gestural meme has enabled people to reply negatively to a request for a service. The meme, which soon spread like an epidemic, consists of pointing to your forehead and saying: "There's no sign there marked Post Office."

Countless memes are purely verbal, consisting of no more than a fashionable expression such as "doing his thing" or "getting a life".

I've often thought it would be fun to invent and introduce a striking meme, to see whether it would succeed in proliferating. Here's one of my schemes: If ever I were to appear on a TV talk show (an unlikely idea), I would wait for an opportunity to introduce the ordinary expression "bare facts". This would be easy. In replying to a simple question, I would ask: "Do you want me to give you the bare facts?" At the same time that I pronounced these words, I would casually turn my backside to the camera, make a gesture as if I were going to drop my pants, then slap myself on the arse, hopefully evoking the theme of bare buttocks. That's all. (I would need to practice this act in front of a mirror, to get it right.) Afterwards, if my meme were successful (that's to say, to catch on and proliferate), we would find other participants in talk shows turning their backsides to the camera whenever the question of bare facts arose, and tapping themselves on the arse. Later, if it were a champion meme, certain courageous users would unbuckle their belts when the discussion turned to bare facts, and actually exhibit their buttocks... which would be much more spectacular than just twitching your fingers in the air.

The question of successful memes is similar to a theme that I talked about in an earlier post, whose title was Second-hand creativity: the way in which a few adolescents wearing used and embroidered jeans can create, unwittingly, a vast fashion and marketing phenomenon.

There's a successful verbal meme that has recently acquired celebrity status in the mouth of George W Bush: the metaphor of sending messages. It's a hi-tech substitute for the old-fashioned notion of "giving an impression". For example, when Democrats urged that means must be found to put an end to the US intervention in Iraq as soon as possible, Bush shot back with rhetorical questions about the kind of "message" that such measures would send to the forces. Recently, a remarkable Democratic lady, Nancy Pelosi, has been doing essential diplomatic work that should have normally been performed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or by Bush himself.

Bush and his associates have hastened to criticize Pelosi's visit in terms of the kind of "mixed message" of national disunity that it will be sending to people in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Today, sending messages is primarily an e-mailer's pastime and a blogger's preoccupation. International diplomacy, on the other hand, is surely a more serious activity, or art ("twitch twitch"), than simply sending messages. Bush should change his verbal memes.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

War effort

This famous photo shows Princess Elizabeth changing a lorry wheel during World War II. The 19-year-old heiress to the throne had joined the Auxiliary Territorial Services with the same rank as a second lieutenant. By the end of the conflict, she had become a Junior Commander capable of driving military vehicles. And today, it's quite possible that Prince Harry will soon be serving in Iraq.

In the Los Angeles Times, the Bush family biographer Kitty Kelley has just written a scathing article whose provocative title is indeed an excellent rhetorical question: Why aren't the Bush daughters in Iraq? [Click here to read the article.] In other words, why aren't they setting a moral example of patriotic service by playing some kind of meaningful role in the allegedly "noble" war being conducted by their father?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Fourth anniversary













On Friday, the French PM Dominique de Villepin visited Harvard University, invited by the political science professor Stanley Hoffmann. Four years ago, that same Frenchman spoke to the United Nations in New York about the dangers of a US invasion of Iraq. A major American newspaper said that, over recent years, everything has changed except Bush's conviction that he can win the war in Iraq. Something else that has not changed during the last four years is France's conviction that this terrible and costly fiasco is not a war that can be won. By terrorists, maybe, but certainly not by Bush.

In the realms of international diplomacy, no politically-correct head of state or his ministers would ever refer to their foreign counterparts by means of derogatory personal remarks or judgments. The representatives of the Republic express themselves with a quality known in French as réserve. Besides, they avoid any remarks that might be interpreted as interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. For those reasons, it would be unthinkable for Jacques Chirac or Dominique de Villepin to react in the way as Australian PM John Howard when he recently blasted the US presidential candidate Barack Obama. But the fact that no French leaders refer to Bush explicitly as an idiot doesn't prevent onlookers from reading between the lines and guessing that this is what they think. One has the impression that nobody in France is keen to talk to Bush any more, or even talk about him. He seems to have become a kind of international nonentity, and people are simply waiting for him to go away, or be chased away.

Getting back to Dominique de Villepin, it's hard to guess what he's going to do with himself after the departure of Chirac in a month or so, because this man has never been an elected politician, and it would be funny seeing a former PM striving to pick up votes in a provincial electorate. During his American visit, somebody asked him whether he felt like becoming an expatriate... maybe in the USA. "No, " replied de Villepin curtly, "I'm too French."