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Commander in Chief Bush doesn’t want to eat crow, but the truly big question is whether those captive boys and girls from the US surveillance plane are being forced to eat dog without their knowledge. The Canadians, eager to discredit their rival, China, as a host of the 2008 Olympics, have been putting about stories about the PRC’s trade in St Bernard dogs, which the Chinese fatten to succulence, then slaughter and prepare in various delectable dishes too numerous for individual citation.
The Turks, also vying to host those 2008 games, are similarly putting about St Bernard atrocity stories discreditable to the Chinese Peoples’ Republic. Will the Olympic Committee, of which Henry Kissinger (a lobbyist for the PRC) is a member order tests of Chinese athletes to see if they have been strengthened by the tasty musculature of the St Bernards?
Meanwhile, the US State Department labors over the calibrations of nuance between “apology” and “regret”, no doubt mulling with other delicate terms of art (such as contrition, anguish, remorse) in an effort to clear up the whole laughable misunderstanding about the spy plane and the dead Chinese pilot who, according to a US senator on the Intelligence Committee, apparently liked to flutter his email address through the canopy of his plane.
The matter of expressions of “apology” by the White House to the Chinese government, as opposed to “regrets” is obviously delicate, but the notion that an apology necessarily involves remorse or contrition is wrong. “Apology” primarily means “vindication” or “explanation”, as in Plato’s well-known piece about Socrates. In the 14-volume Oxford English Dictionary the element of remorse is included only in the third definition of the word.
So the US State Department, headed by that peacenik Powell (who is leaking the news that he recommended an apology from the outset) could issue a formal document, titled Apology for the US Surveillance Mission for the Benefit of the Chinese Government, wave it at the Chinese and tell them to load up our boys and girls, plump from their mushu dog and send them home.
Many entertaining passages in international relations concern detention and poor treatment of diplomats, spies or simple travellers. The nineteenth century is replete with incidents where local despots twisted the tail of the British imperial lion, often with impunity.
The mid-nineteenth century Bolivian caudillo, Mariano Melgarejo, wearied of the complaints of the British ambassador in La Paz, lifted his mistress’s skirts and told the uppity envoy to kiss her bare bottom. When the diplomat declined the honor, Melgarejo had him paraded on an ass, facing backwards. Queen Victoria and her prime minister Palmerston ordered landlocked Bolivia’s capital to be bombarded by ships of Her Majesty’s navy. Told that La Paz, 200 miles inland from the Pacific, was out of gunshot range, they contented themselves with having Bolivia erased from British maps.
Another nineteenth century president of Bolivia in the 1860s was a rough diamond called Belzu. He was described by the snooty Brazilian diplomat Duarte Ponte Ribeiro as “a soldier who had his home in the barracks or the brothel, who never appeared in decent society, and who never opened a book.” Ribeiro was angered by Belzu’s threat to shoot Brazil’s commercial attache in a public square in La Paz, thus prompting the timid envoy to flee.
A few years earlier Britons boiled out the outrageous conduct of Nasrullah, the Emir of Bokhara towards two British officers, Colonel Charles Stoddart and Captain Arthur Conolly. Stoddard arrived in Bokhara on a spying mission in 1838 and, “unschooled in the sycophantic ways of oriental diplomacy” (Peter Hopkirk’s phrase in his book “The Great Game”), didn’t dismount from his horse on approaching the Emir’s palace. The Emir promptly threw Stoddard into a rat -infested black hole, without even dog on the menu.
The executioner soon dropped by to advise that unless he embraced Islam, Stoddard’s head would come off in very short order. Confronted with the option of betraying the faith of his fathers, Stoddart behaved as would any honorable fellow officer in such circumstances and swiftly perceived the superior merits of Islam. His conditions improved markedly. Word of his forcible conversion reached England and the national blood boiled.
Then another British officer, Conolly, turned up in the Bokhara region. Other emirs warned him not to trifle with Bokhara’s erratic boss but Conolly, distraught after being dumped by his fiancee, failed to heed their counsel.
The Emir of Bokhara suggested he drop by for a friendly chat and the foolish Conolly took up this invitation. The Emir was polite at first, but soon changed tack and Conolly was hurled into the rat-infested hole. The Emir had become mightily affronted at the slight of receiving no personal reply to his letter to Queen Victoria. Worse, Palmerston dropped him a note saying the letter had been forwarded to Calcutta for consideration by local British colonial officials. The British government took to describing the two officers as “private travellers”, which probably sealed their doom.
Then matters went down hill. A British force in Kabul was massacred to the last man (a doctor who managed an amazing escape) and Britain’s reputation sank throughout the region. The two British officers were made to dig their own graves in the main square in Bokhara. Stoddard denounced the emir in his apopemptic remarks and was promptly beheaded. The executioner then invited Conolly to convert. Citing Stoddard’s unprofitable flirtation with Islam, Conolly declined and his head instantly joined that of Stoddard in the dust.
Israel Without Apologies
Talking of State Department language, the US newspapers were a little coy in discussing the very strong language used by State Department spokesman Boucher about some recent events in Israel, including announced new settlements and the Israeli military’s salvoes directed at Palestinian security officials returning from a meeting with Israeli government people, convened under the supervision of a CIA man in the residence of the US Ambassador Martin Indyk near Tel Aviv. US diplomats had escorted the three Palestinians back to the Gaza borner, at which point they transferred to their own jkeeps, plus a silver Mercdes.
Then Israeli bullets and shrapnel hit the convoy. As
the jeeps sped away, one flipped over and two bodyguards suffered broken limbs.
Since this encounter marked the reentry of the US into Israeli-Palestinian engotations, the salvo represented a marked slap in the face for the US. The Israellis claimed without any great conviction that their forces had been fired upon by the Palestinian convoy.
Here’s how bits of the briefing on April 5 went. Note the use of the word “ingenious” in the opening question from an unidentified journalist. If a CIA man was blown up in a phone booth, I don’t think we’d be bending over backwards to praise the clever tactics of his killers.
Question: “Do you have any remarks on Israeli plans to auction off more West Bank land to build more houses? And also, any comment on the latest political assassination, which was particularly ingenious — this exploding phone one.
BOUCHER: The stories of exploding phones, we don’t know anything beyond what’s in the press reports. As far as the new permits that have been issued for construction activity, I would say that continuing settlement activity by Israel does risk further inflaming an already volatile situation in the region. This is provocative, and we have consistently encouraged both sides to refrain from provocative acts. As far as the crossing point, the firing at the [Palestinian] convoy last night we see as a very serious incident. When he heard about it, the Secretary immediately telephoned Prime Minister SharonIsrael does have a responsibility to provide for the safety and security of Palestinian officials traveling to and from the security meetings. Prior to these meetings, we had been assured by Israeli officials that this would be the caseWe hope there will be a thorough investigation of the incident so that these kinds of incidents can be prevented in the future.”
For Boucher to use the phrase “a very serious incident” is fairly heavy diplomatic lingo. The Washington Post’s Daniel William’s quoted Boucher’s use of the word “provocative” about the planned new settlements, but had nothing on reaction to the firing on the Palestinian envoys. The New York Times’ Deborah Sontag did quote the “very serious incident” phrase.
Yesterday the Israeli government did express “regret” in a report on the incident to Palestinian security forces but
Zalman Shoval, an aide to Sharon and a former ambassador to the United States, said Israel would not issue an official apology. “I think it’s really too much to demand (an apology) when every day we are being shot at,” Shoval said. “We didn’t try to justify this (shooting). We said it was a mistake and we are sorry about that.”
Not even regrets for the phone bomb and (of course) for those new settlements. CP