Thursday, January 20, 2011

Diplomatese and Dictatorese

Because of the greatness of the Shah, Iran is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.--Jimmy Carter toasting the Shah in Tehran, December 31, 1977, a year before the Shah's bloody dictatorship was overthrown in a popular revolution.

This proposed sale [of $281 million in weapons] will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for economic and military progress in North Africa. --The Obama Administration’s 2010 request to Congress for military sales to the now fallen murderous Tunisian kleptocracy.

Political talk and diplomatese bear only a vague relationship to everyday English. Consider this object lesson I served up a couple of years back:
Jeffrey Dahmer rules over an anthropaphagusian autocracy with Charlie Manson as his secretary of defense. He accepts Wall Street investments and hosts a U.S. military base. He buys lots of pots and pans and knives from American firms. The administration characterizes him as “moderate” and a “valuable ally” in the war against terror.
Jesus Christ returns, bringing Heaven to a small corner of earth. The Empyrean economy is share and share alike. Jesus declines both U.S. investment and military alliance. The administration brands him an “extremist,” a “dictator,” and a “dangerous obstacle” to the war on terror.
Now, if you can get into that sort of Oz head where words mean only what your superiors want them to mean, there’s a job for you in Washington. In particular, you would have to keep from laughing your ass off when you heard Barack Obama lecturing the president of China on human rights. You would have to put out of mind that the only use for the billions in weapons we supply to thugs like Tunisia’s Ben Ali is to protect their dictatorships from their own people. You would have to forget that the U.S. is to torture as FedEx is to packages
Citizens informed by the money media know that Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is a dictator. Didn’t he lift the broadcast license of a tv station (that's still in business on cable, satellite and internet) just for taking part in a coup against the elected government? Doesn’t he arrest people simply for trying to assassinate him? Doesn’t he keep running for office as if he were Teddy Kennedy? Sure, we’ve all been coached on calling Chavez an autocrat, even though he keeps winning honest elections and even though the political opposition in Venezuela is louder, nastier and freer than anything we would permit here.
But how much did we know about our former comprador, Zine Al-Abadine Ben Ali, now enjoying refuge from justice in our medieval satrapy of Saudi? Did you know, for instance, that he’s a graduate of U.S. Army schools at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Holabird, Maryland, where his major was intelligence and military security?
Did we know that “in 1999 Fulvio Martini, former head of Italian military secret service SISMI, declared to a parliamentary committee that ‘In 1985-1987, we (in NATO) organized a kind of golpe (i.e. coup d'etat) in Tunisia, putting President Ben Ali as head of state, replacing President Habib Bourguiba.’"
Did we know that during his confirmation hearing in July 2009 as U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia, Gordon Gray reiterated the West's support for the Ben Ali regime, telling the Senate Foreign Relations committee, "We've had a long-standing military relationship with the government and with the military. It's very positive. Tunisian military equipment is of U.S. origin, so we have a long-standing assistance program there."
There’s nothing special about Ben Ali, except perhaps that his wife and in-laws apparently qualify for the Imelda Marcos award for over the top venality. He’s just one of countless tinpot tyrants who have sullied Washington’s payroll over the decades. For all of our ado about democracy, there’s no doubt that future historians will remember our nation as the the world’s non pareil dispenser of dictatorships. I could begin to list them here, but you would get bored and my fingers would tire.
Meanwhile, we've got to assume that nail-biting is growing to epidemic proportions at the Pentagon and in Langley and Foggy Bottom. If Washington got so worked up by a couple of thousand of atavistic Islamists, imagine the worry about the Tunisian revolt going viral with millions in the Middle East demanding real democracy, meaning the overthrow of the despots whose torture chambers we franchise as if they were fitness centers.