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A Season of Depressing Political Reruns

Recent political events resemble nothing so much as re-runs of movies that should never have been released the first time.

Bush has gone to Europe to “ease tensions” in the NATO alliance. Of course, those very tensions were his work entirely, but a sense of the ridiculous never discourages a Jehovah’s Witness with a long list of house calls to make.

If you read the fine print under the marketing blurbs for Bush’s trip – much like the microscopically-printed disclaimer for a new prescription drug that hasn’t undergone adequate testing – you will see that Bush’s effort is directed at nothing more than securing European help in the mess he has made of Iraq. This is just a new, more subdued episode of previous Bush whining about being “either with us or against us.” He wants a shred of legitimacy for what he’s done, and he wants other people to help pay his enormous bills. Fortunately, it appears at this writing that Europe, while listening politely and offering a cookie to soothe Bush’s whining, is not about to alter its sensible course.

In another dreary re-run, America’s Republicans have focused their vicious rage against Kofi Anan, now attacking his son to get at him. This might seem bizarre coming from the friends of Enron, WorldCom, and Halliburton, people whose President made his first dollar in an oil-stock deal that should have seen the SEC sending him to jail, but hypocrisy has become almost a point of pride with Republicans, particularly the Sequined Christian Warrior Wing of the party.

The personal attacks against Anan and his son recall the attacks on former President Clinton and his wife. When it wasn’t about real estate, it was about sex, and when it wasn’t about sex, it was about a friend’s suicide. Whatever it was, it had nothing to do with governing the country or policy differences. The noise went on for eight mind-numbing years, revealing an immense store of hatred and the finances to promote it.

Anan was actually America’s compromise to replace Boutros Boutros Ghali, an intellectual and diplomat, hated and pushed from his post by Americans. His crime was being too cosmopolitan and not pro-American enough, Americans so often blurring the initials U.N. into U.S. Well, since Ghali’s departure, the standard of adequate pro-Americanism has swelled like a malignant brain tumor. The soft-spoken, urbane Anan is just not good enough now, having quietly said during Bush’s re-election campaign that the American invasion of Iraq was illegal, which it clearly was. Anyway, urbanity alone can get you into serious trouble with the Grand Ole Opry crowd running Washington.

A pathetic re-run was the election in Iraq. We saw it in Vietnam and in other places, the claim that some great change had come through forced, much-photographed (and rigged) elections. All those light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel columns and press releases when all that was at the end of the tunnel was a stupendous pile of burnt Vietnamese corpses, mainly civilians. Well, that part too is being repeated in Iraq. Dead civilians. Piles of them every week.

It is reported on the Internet that the Shiite coalition actually received a much larger vote than the figure set to headlines by America’s Office of Auxiliary Propaganda, usually only known by names such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and CBS. The vote apparently was shaved behind the scenes from around 60% to 48%, so that the new Iraqi government wouldn’t come in feeling its oats. After all, they have a lot to swallow, including indefinite occupation, the establishment of permanent American airbases, and a new embassy big and well-equipped enough to provide a Middle East White House and Spa for the convenience and comfort of future visiting American dignitaries.

Ah, such faith in democracy! But that is how the game of democracy is played in America itself. The man with the never-explained electronic hump on his back during television debates was “elected” twice using just such methods or variants. Bush holds office with about the same sense of legitimacy as the White House press credentials of a Karl Rove operative with nude pictures on the Internet.

Palestine’s new President, Mahmoud Abbas, is working extremely hard to satisfy every demand of Israel. It is hard to avoid the unpleasant impression of a new maid polishing every spoon and fork late into the night. What is not apparent right now is that Sharon and Abbas have very different ideas of what it is that Abbas is working towards. Abbas certainly has in mind the end of occupation and a genuinely independent Palestinian state. Sharon has in mind the privilege of Abbas continuing through an endless maze called the peace process.

The word “process” should be retired from the English language for a while. Everything has become a process. We have education processes instead of education, political processes instead of politics, and peace processes instead of peace. Sticking “process” onto other words represents an effort to make whatever is happening seem bigger and more impressive than it actually is. I could be convinced to exclude “peace process” from the proposed ban, the inflated nothingness of the phrase pretty much fitting reality in this one instance.

It’s all a re-run because, despite many failings, no one worked harder for an extended period to build the foundations of a Palestinian state and peace with Israel than Arafat. He turned his back on the written reason for his party’s founding, fought a fierce battle with other Palestinian parties, and worked hard for the Oslo Accords. It was all for nothing. At Camp David he was offered the statehood-equivalent of a set of empty barracks at several abandoned Israeli military bases surrounded by barbed wire. Sharon, assisted by the Electronic Hunchback of Washington, grotesquely shoved Arafat into a corner with no permission to speak or travel. Sharon publicly threatened Arafat several times with murder, and of course the circumstances of Arafat’s death remain quite unclear.

And it will prove the same for Abbas. A huge and crushing disillusion lies ahead. Israel’s idea of a “peace process” is endless delays and excuses while establishing “new facts on the ground” (a.k.a. seizing other peoples’ homes, orchards, and water supplies) with the regularity of around-the-clock operations at an automobile stamping plant.

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John Chuckman lives in Canada.

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