“Not straightforward or candid; giving a false appearance of frankness” is what my dictionary says, but the Washington Post headline, Bush Meets Dissidents In Campaign For Rights says it far more eloquently.
I know these presidential photo-ops are planned months in advance, but sometimes George just lays a turd in the nation’s lap and smiles as though it was a golden egg.
Meeting with dissidents in select countries is something our president sees as powerfully symbolic but the key, as I tried to point out in yesterday’s column, is that you’re either for or against and select doesn’t work. Isn’t this the president who made famous the phrase ‘you’re either for or against us?’ The same guy who vowed to activists around the world in his inaugural address that ‘we will stand with you’ in battles against repression. That brought a standing ovation last January. Today’s headline is a slap in the face to all the families who lost someone in last month’s Uzbek massacre.
So, Bush’s crowing about Kim Jong II probably ‘hating’ his meeting with a North Korean defector in the Oval Office comes off as a perfect example of ‘giving a false appearance of frankness.’ Disingenuous? You bet.
As Bush was getting Kang Chol Hwan to autograph a copy of his book about the ten years spent in a North Korean prison, his Secretary of Defense was busy in Brussels, defanging a NATO communiqué calling for an investigation of the Uzbek killings. Meanwhile, in Washington, senior Pentagon, State Department and White House officials met about Uzbekistan and tried to gloss over their screw-up:
"We have, despite all the screaming about the alleged differences, been very consistent. We have not allowed our legitimate interest in K2 (the Uzbek air base) for operations in Afghanistan to be used as leverage against us to soften our democracy message. We’re not going to pull the plug on K2 deliberately, but we’ve sent pretty good messages that the Uzbeks need to do the right thing."
Now if we could just get our president to do the right thing, everyone would be on the same page.
In another of the ‘stans,’ Pakistan in this case, Nicholas D. Kristof (editorial columnist for the New York Times) details President Musharraf’s kidnapping of Mukhtaran Bibi. She’s the poster-child against rape, stonings and the general humiliation of Pakistani women and Musharraf had her hustled off to prison just before she was scheduled to leave for the U.S. on a speaking tour. Bush might ask Musharraf about that the next time they speak on the phone. Friday, the same day as the kidnapping, President Bush received Pakistan’s foreign minister in the White House and praised President Musharraf’s "bold leadership."
There is a lesson here and the lesson is not necessarily to set foreign policy or defense policy according to human rights. That’s not always possible and sometimes not even useful.
The lesson is to not make bold and dynamic public statements about democracy and support of dissidents when they are disingenuous, make our country ridiculous and work against our reputation throughout the world.