I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around,
and don't let anybody tell you different

-Kurt Vonnegut

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Sunday, October 17, 2004

George W. Bush and Switzerland

Today's NY Times Magazine has a highly interesting - and truly scary - article by Ron Suskind entitled "Without a Doubt - Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush".

For all of you following the debate on Swiss neutrality and the army, an excerpt:

In the Oval Office in December 2002, the president met with a few ranking senators and members of the House, both Republicans and Democrats. In those days, there were high hopes that the United States-sponsored ''road map'' for the Israelis and Palestinians would be a pathway to peace, and the discussion that wintry day was, in part, about countries providing peacekeeping forces in the region. The problem, everyone agreed, was that a number of European countries, like France and Germany, had armies that were not trusted by either the Israelis or Palestinians. One congressman -- the Hungarian-born Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California and the only Holocaust survivor in Congress -- mentioned that the Scandinavian countries were viewed more positively. Lantos went on to describe for the president how the Swedish Army might be an ideal candidate to anchor a small peacekeeping force on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sweden has a well-trained force of about 25,000. The president looked at him appraisingly, several people in the room recall.

''I don't know why you're talking about Sweden,'' Bush said. ''They're the neutral one. They don't have an army.''
Lantos paused, a little shocked, and offered a gentlemanly reply: ''Mr. President, you may have thought that I said Switzerland. They're the ones that are historically neutral, without an army.'' Then Lantos mentioned, in a gracious aside, that the Swiss do have a tough national guard to protect the country in the event of invasion.
Bush held to his view. ''No, no, it's Sweden that has no army.''
The room went silent, until someone changed the subject.

A few weeks later, members of Congress and their spouses gathered with administration officials and other dignitaries for the White House Christmas party. The president saw Lantos and grabbed him by the shoulder. ''You were right,'' he said, with bonhomie. ''Sweden does have an army.''

Kind of reminds me of that story people tell about Stalin - how he appointed two separate ambassadors to The Hague, one for Holland and one for the Netherlands, and all his advisors were too afraid to tell him...

Less amusing, but equally interesting are some of Suskind's other insights into the President's personality. Some excerpts:

''This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts,'' [Repuclican advisor Bruce] Bartlett went on to say. ''He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.'' Bartlett paused, then said, ''But you can't run the world on faith.''

Or how about this:

Three months ago, for instance, in a private meeting with Amish farmers in Lancaster County, Pa., Bush was reported to have said, ''I trust God speaks through me.'' In this ongoing game of winks and nods, a White House spokesman denied the president had specifically spoken those words, but noted that ''his faith helps him in his service to people.''

Suskind concludes that:

In the end, Bush doesn't have to say he's ordained by God. After a day of speeches by Hardy Billington and others, it goes without saying.

16 days until November 2nd...


Chris said...

Well, what can I say other than: dilettantism, true and simple ...

Judge Jonathan said...

Exactly. Interesting read - Suskind essentially makes the same argument as Peter Sloterdijk, who said - in your translation :) - that for Bush, "you are not on stage because of your capabilities, but rather because you believe to have a vision which legitimates your every action".