In This Edition: Dubya Speaks With Forked Tongue - Showdown In Slovenia - Oh To Be A Fly On The Wall - Could It Be Time To Put The U.S. On An Oil Diet?
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Dubya Speaks With Forked Tongue
As U.S. President George W. Bush heads for Slovenia for his first face to face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the signs are not looking good for a President who is rapidly becoming the most unpopular U.S. President internationally, perhaps of all time.
Yesterday’s address at the University of Warsaw was a valiant attempt to patch up what is fast becoming a nightmarish trip abroad for Bush, but unfortunately it looks like it will end up being too little too late.
That said, listening to Dubya’s address to Warsaw University (See… George W. Bush Speech At Warsaw University ) in the early hours this morning via satellite Sludge could not help but be a little impressed.
Not only did the President appear to have memorised the full 3000 word opus, but there was much in the content of the speech that Sludge found himself heartily agreeing with.
After quoting John Paul II, Dubya remarked: “Just as man cannot be reduced to a means of production, he must find goals greater than mere consumption.”
Damn right! Man must find goals greater than consumption. But does Dubya really believe this? And, perhaps more importantly, do his friends and backers, the bankers and oil companies, whom, in a policy sense the new U.S. Administration appears to be wedded to, believe in such noble ideals?
Listening to Dubya’s wonderful rhetoric on the value and importance of “democracy” and “freedom”, Sludge couldn’t help thinking of Noam Chomsky’s explanation that when used by U.S. Administration's these words take on a peculiar and uniquely U.S. meaning.
“Democracy”, when used by the State Department, means in effect “unfettered capitalism”, while “freedom” when used in this context actually means the freedom of U.S. companies to project themselves and their products into other peoples countries.
The truth is of course, and hopefully those listening to his speech in Warsaw understood this, is that Dubya speaks with forked tongue.
In substance rather than rhetorical terms, the key component of Dubya’s speech, contained a message which is precisely the reverse of the positive tone of inclusiveness and peaceableness that it’s finely honed rhetoric on its surface portrayed.
While claiming that Russia has nothing to fear from the U.S., Bush’s comments on the expansion of NATO, perhaps as far as the Baltic states, are calculated to offend and confront directly the man he is meeting tomorrow in Slovenia.
Bush knows these comments will be reported thoroughly inside Russia. And he could hardly be surprised that Russia’s leaders find the idea of the Baltic states joining NATO a little alarming. How would the Pentagon feel about a garrison of Russian armed forces in Mexico?
Unfortunately thus far President Bush (and seemingly CNN and CNBC) do not appear to realise that the repetition of statements telling the Russians that they have nothing to fear from a National Missile Defence, does not necessarily make it so.
Showdown In Slovenia
So what of the upcoming superpower summit in Slovenia, due to kick off in the next few hours? What can be expected from the first meeting between the leaders of the world’s two super-powers?
From a cursory reading of the signs, Sludge concludes not a lot.
Firstly there is the choice of location for the meeting. This was presumably not Dubya’s first choice of location.
As part of the former Yugoslavia, the meeting place positively reeks of a renewal of cold war tensions.
And then there is the background.
On George W. Bush’s side there are the recently clarified U.S.-E.U. tensions over the Kyoto Treaty and the National Missile Defence. There are the challenges issued in Warsaw on the expansion of NATO. And there are recent, relatively unpleasant experiences, in Gothenburg where Dubya earned himself a new moniker, “Toxic Texan”.
Meanwhile, on the Russian side, President Vladimir Putin too does not appear to be making any efforts to make friends with and influence Dubya. In fact quite the reverse. He too looks to be setting the scene for a stoush.
President Putin has just returned from a summit in Beijing where he strengthened his links with the Chinese, and in the process renewed his mandate to staunchly oppose the U.S. President’s National Missile Defence plans.
As if to emphasise the contempt in which the new Sino-Soviet alliance holds President Bush’s new administration, today brings news that China has forced the Americans into contracting a Russian transport company to chop up and transport home the EP3 spy plane that has contributed so markedly so souring the U.S.-China relationship lately.
According to the Associated Press, “Pentagon officials said chartering a Russian Antonov, one of the world's largest cargo aircraft, was necessary because China had refused to allow a U.S. military plane to come for the crippled aircraft.”
A more direct way to deliver a two-fingered salute to the U.S. on the eve of this superpower summit would have been hard to find.
Oh To Be A Fly On The Wall
When it comes to superpower politics there is one issue that brings strategic policy institutes out in a rash more frequently than any other, oil.
Therefore whatever the official outcome of today’s talks in Slovenia – and Sludge expects to see the usual smiling handshake pictures and bland platitudes - in the background it will be the economics of the oil industry that will have the backroom boys breaking out in a sweat.
It may be a bit of a long shot, but Sludge, as usual, has a theory on the nature of U.S. anxieties in this area.
If there is one area of diplomacy, and public relations, in which the new U.S. President has fouled up more than most, it is the environment and his dismissive attitude to climate change. When it comes to the Kyoto climate change treaty, the world of international diplomacy is rapidly moving to a U.S., and Australia’s soon to be replaced PM John Howard, versus the world position.
Sludge suspects this fact will not have escaped the attention of Mr Putin who has recently been negotiating some important long term supply agreements with Europe for fossil fuels.
As a result of this there are a few particularly potent buttons available for the Russian President to push during his meeting with Dubya in Slovenia today.
The U.S. is the world’s largest importer of fossil fuels. It is also the world’s largest producer of fossil fuels, but unfortunately it’s domestic supplies are rapidly running out.
Russia meanwhile is presently in the process of developing, with its central Asian neighbours, the largest remaining untapped reserves of oil in the world.
The U.S. as might be expected is also heavily involved in many of these oil developments - but ultimately their involvement and access to this oil remains conditional on maintaining a civil relationship with Moscow.
And so it could be said that Mr Putin has some crude leverage available to play with in Slovenia.
Could It Be Time To Put The U.S. On An Oil Diet?
While it is undoubtedly a little far-fetched, this whole discussion of the U.S. economy’s vulnerability on the oil front, brings to mind some very mischievous thinking in Sludge’s mind. To give credit where it is due, this particular piece of mischief was inspired by Greenpeace.
Coincident with the Gothenburg U.S.-E.U. summit Greenpeace launched a very interesting new direct action campaign plan (See… Greenpeace action against export of Norwegian oil). The campaign aims to put pressure on the U.S. to enter the Kyoto arrangements by encouraging a Norweigian embargo on U.S. oil exports.
Of course, simply stopping Norweigian oil exports to the U.S. would not be enough to bring the mighty U.S. economy to its senses. On the other hand, if OPEC and Russia got into the act, we would soon have an entirely new scenario to look at. And the aforementioned central Asian reserves are undoubtedly a key element in this puzzle.
To environmentalists the world over the idea of imposing Kyoto compliance on the U.S., externally, that is by rationing their oil imports, has considerable appeal.
With a bit of organisation, such a plan could even be organised in such a way as to impose incentives on U.S. motorists to give up their gas-guzzling SUVs (powered at present on the cheapest petroleum in the developed world), by imposing a special U.S. oil price.
Of course any such plan would be a great deal harder to organise were President George W. Bush and his administration to suddenly become a great deal more friendly, and respectful of the wishes of fellow governments of the world.
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