Friday, September 22, 2006

Can't Stand the Heat Dept.

Some Americans are upset that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called George Bush "the devil" during his speech Wednesday before the United Nations. Well, that's the First Amendment, folks.

The next issue is how many of these incensed Americans have read the full text of Chavez' speech. Most likely zero to none. I found my copy at

It is appropriate to acknowledge that Mr. Bush has for some years freely thrown about the word "evil" as an adjective and noun in reference to other nations. I am sure the 70 million citizens of Iran were not overjoyed with the President Bush calling their nation, and therefore themselves, a key compass point in an "Axis of Evil." -- Evil with a capital "E" being understood by anyone of the religious persuasion as pertaining to an alliance or dalliance with Satan.

Let's not forget the word "Axis" in Mr. Bush's phrase, was an intentional reference to the Axis powers of Hitler, Mussolini and Japan during World War II. Thus, an entire nation and its citizens, such as Iran, were implicitly compared by Mr. Bush to Hitler's Nazi Germany -- the standard historic benchmark of Evil -- as well as Mussolini's murderous fascists and the murderous, raping Imperial Japanese forces in China and Southeast Asia of the 1930s and 1940s.

From a purely factual standpoint, Mr. Bush has availed himself the luxury and freedom of branding entire nations, their citizens, and leaders with an appellation synonymous with that used by Mr. Chavez this week to describe Mr. Bush the man. The difference between calling a nation "Evil" with a capital "E" and calling a President the "Devil" is so small as to be irrelevant -- a difference without a distinction.

In contrast to Bush's language usages since 2001, Mr. Chavez described only Mr. Bush in an Hadean manner -- not American citizens or the nation itself. In contrast, Mr. Bush did not make this distinction in his "Axis of Evil" declaration referred to the nations themselves and therefore all of their citizens -- many of whom may disagree with the policies of their leaders.

I would have preferred Chavez had not used the phrase for which he is now being criticized. However, following a scientifically neutral "shoe fits" model, some of Mr. Bush's top policy actions point him more toward the Plutonic than the Platonic.

For example: advocating and authorizing and defending a policy of torturing citizens of other countries; kidnapping and "rendition" of citizens to other nations for the express purpose of torturing them; operating top secret gulags in other nations where torture can be conducted free from US constitutional prohibitions; offering no apology or remorse for innocent people caught up within this secretive kidnapping and torture web or for what appears to be scores of kidnapped nationals of other nations who have died in US custody in these gulags; and finally, Mr. Bush's active efforts to legally immunize from prosecution all US personnel responsible for the death of US kidnappees or victims of his torture programs.

None of these policies and practices -- which Mr. Bush publicly admits to with pride -- convey to himself and his supporters the badge of self-righteous indignation they now seek to wear so prominently. Or in more colloquial terms, payback's a bitch.

It could be said on the one hand that Mr. Chavez' use of the Luciferan tense in describing Mr. Bush distracted attention from the substance of this speech to the United Nations. It could equally be said that without Mr. Chavez' utterance of this phrase, few outside the UN hall would have given any attention to his speech.

A key component of Chavez' speech was his commitment to creating a community of nations where the policies of the United States are no longer so singularly dominant. Key to this process, Chavez asserted, was ending the post World War II veto power of the WW II allied nations in the UN Security Council. Chavez correctly stated that this veto power is a relic of WW II and the Cold War and should be revoked if the United Nations is to have any utility and meaning as a functioning body in the 21st century.

From the perspective of a nation like Venezuela, Mr. Bush's policy of "pre-emptive war" must not sit well either, given its premise that the United States reserves to itself the right to attack or invade any nation the US believes could become a potential threat in the future. Not only does this policy extend the Monroe Doctrine to the entire planet, it stretches the Monroe Doctrine itself to a doctrine indistinguishable from saying the US has the right to intervene in the policy deliberations of any country if the US believes those policies could result in future actions which the US believes may threaten whatever the US declares as its "security interests" at any moment. That's a pretty wide net.

This recent name-calling and its not unexpected reflexive reaction in the United States, says as much about those who claim to be offended as it does about the purported offender.

The more important question is this: does Hugo Chavez now get a cut from Noam Chomsky's book sales after his boffo plug at the UN Book Club and Reading Group?

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