Friday, February 25, 2005

Truth By Inversion

Sometimes it's actually useful to have a president -- or an entire administration -- whose policy is never to tell the truth. As long as you understand the policy, you can often divine the truth simply by taking a misleading statement and inverting one or more of the phrases or clauses. And in the current administration, misleading statements are a dime a dozen. Or maybe even cheaper...

For example, on Feb 19th, on the eve of his trip to Europe, George W. Bush said:
"We do not accept a false caricature that divides the Western world between an idealistic United States and a cynical Europe."
A much more realistic assessment of the situation could be obtained by inverting every single part of that sentence:
"A true characterization would divide the Western world between an idealistic Europe and a cynical United States."
Europe is idealistic because it believes in solving problems through negotiation, as in the case of Iran. The USA is cynical because it has a longstanding and wide-ranging policy of saying one thing and doing exactly the opposite. Bush and his cronies have thoroughly trashed democracy at home, yet they have no compunction about travelling all over the world, lecturing foreign leaders about democracy. That's nothing if not cynical.

The disease does not afflict Bush alone, and therefore a clever observer can obtain some semblance of the truth by applying the same method to the pronouncements of his associates. For instance, in the same article, Richard Perle, described by CNN as "a conservative with close ties to the Bush White House", is quoted as saying:
"The Europeans don't like the president's style., but they have carried this disapproval of the president's style to an extreme."
Perle has been decribed elsewhere as a "radical" who has "an office in the Pentagon but no accountability to anyone". Strictly speaking, Perle is nothing like a conservative. He's a radical, as extreme as they come. He has no right to call anybody "extreme". But he is sufficiently pompous and presumptuous to do it anyway.

And despite his best efforts, the truth about European leaders, as usual, can be found through inversion:
"The Europeans don't like the president's policies, but thus far they have been very subtle in voicing their disapproval."
By and large, European leaders don't care about Bush's style. They are used to brashness from American presidents, whom they usually perceive as slightly uncivilized. But never in their lifetimes have they seen an American president who was so eager to wage war. Americans tend to forget, whereas Europeans cannot help but remember, that Europe has been ravaged by war throughout its history, including twice in the last century. Thus Europeans have a certain respect and even fear for the damage that warfare can do, whereas Bush has neither. Apparently they didn't teach those things in the AWOL section of the Texas Make-Believe Air Force.

So a wise observer will not take any of these pronouncements seriously. It's not the cynical Bush's style that bothers the idealistic leaders of Europe; it's the substance. And even the pompous and presumptuous Richard Perle cannot possibly spin that away.

Still, it's troubling to see European leaders welcoming Bush so publicly. One can only hope that behind their backs they have their fingers crossed.