Most Americans grind their teeth when he’s in the media now. Six months before he boards Airforce One headed for his ranch in Crawford, Texas, George W Bush’s Presidency resembles a tragic play.
These days, Bush seems nothing less than the naïve, credulously optimistic hero stomping towards an ignominious end. What’s the character flaw which will lead to his doom? Bush is a ‘fatal optimist’.
On 19 March, just over a week before he met with Kevin Rudd, Bush declared that the US had "come so far and achieved so much" in Iraq.
Meanwhile, the US dead soldier count has reached 4000. Last week, the Iraqi Government attacked Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Southern Iraq.
Sadr is one of the most important political leaders in Iraq, and his army’s ceasefire was one of the major causes for the recent decrease in violence in the country. Bush’s response showed that he still doesn’t understand Iraq. In his press conference with Rudd on Friday, he called Sadr a "criminal element". He even opined that the new upsurge of violence is a "very positive moment".
Sadr is undoubtedly a militia leader. But he’s also an important political leader and nationalist, with the support of 30 deputies in the Iraqi Parliament. For Shia, he’s also an important symbol of resistance to Saddam Hussein.
And he wants to end the Sunni versus Shia Civil War. Sounds like what the Bush Administration wants? Problem is, he wants to end that war by uniting Sunni and Shia against the US.
So by hitting his forces, the Iraqi Government have actually begun another stage in the war. Some are even warning that the next five years in Iraq could be worse than the five years so far. One Iraq specialist interviewed by the Washington Post told the paper last week that the "big battle for Iraq hasn’t been fought yet".
Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd arrived in Washington on Friday to tell Bush that Australian forces would be withdrawn from Iraq’s fresh hell by mid-year.
In the past, Bush has publicly sulked when other countries decided to withdraw soldiers from Iraq. When José Luis Rodríguez Zapartero was elected Spanish Prime Minister and took out his country’s troops, Bush said he’d given "false comfort to terrorists". Later, when Zapatero rang to congratulate Bush on beating Democrat John Kerry, Dubya wasn’t interested in taking his call.
But Friday at the White House was a different story. When a reporter asked Bush whether he was upset that the Aussie troops were leaving, and Australia had signed Kyoto, Bush replied with sanguine nonchalance.
"I guess it depends if you’re a half-glass empty guy or a half-glass full guy," Bush smiled. "The Prime Minister just defined his desire to help this young democracy in Iraq succeed. That’s what we’re for. So I don’t see differences when it comes to foreign policy. As a matter of fact, I see common agreement."
That’s right – in Bushworld, the Australian decision to withdraw actually signals "agreement" that everything’s dandy with his Iraq policy. Australia’s $165 million apologetic foreign aid commitment to Iraq is just like sending troops to Iraq. (Except for the small fact that it’s not at all analogous in any sense. If they supported the US ‘surge’ towards ‘victory’, Australia could have given foreign aid and kept those troops there.)
But no matter. Australia is as tight with the United States as when we agreed with everything Big Brother said. Bush even called Rudd a "man of steel", just like his old mate John Howard. Which made me think, as I was watching the conference: Perhaps Bush is such a ‘half-glass full’ kinda guy that he imagined he was still standing next to the re-elected Australian Prime Minister Howard.
Maybe Bush will get furiously angry sometime in the next few months, when he finally twigs that Howard lost, and that the US has one fewer ally willing to send soldiers to his ‘Hundred Year War‘ in Iraq.
Meanwhile, in the real world, Rudd met with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Saturday night in New York. Rudd wants more progress on combating climate change.
But the US doesn’t even want to talk about global warming. Meanwhile European Governments are using America’s failure to curb emissions to argue that their industries shouldn’t have to make carbon cuts. It seems like the world will have to wait for a new US President to get emissions under control.
On a weekend in which Google America blacked its screen to support the Earth Hour worldwide switch-off, it seems that even big business (not to mention the public everywhere) is willing governments to start getting their polluting heavy industries under control.
Bush didn’t understand his Government’s policy on Global Warming as recently as 2004. Perhaps he believes the world can will or pray Global Warming away.
In the past, the President’s climate change reps have sulked their way out of global warming summits. And even after the US Supreme Court told Bush’s Environmental Protection Agency to regulate Greenhouse Gases, they did nothing about it.
For the last eight years, the Bushies have willed and cajoled their way to get what they wanted. It’s been a childish era in US Government policy that seems only likely to end when Master President is replaced by a grown-up.
Whatever the public niceties of Friday’s press conference in Washington, Kevin Rudd is probably trying to remain optimistic about the chances of that happening.
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