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Say What You Mean

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In recent days, three men have made provocative statements aimed at an international audience: The Pope, and the Presidents of Iran and Venezuela. All three ignited what it pleases the media to call “a storm of controversy”. I am wondering to what extent each of them did so on purpose, what that purpose, if any might be, and whether or not they achieved what they wanted with their speeches.

To answer these questions fully might require speculation on my part. I am prepared to so speculate if I must.

First of all, the Pope’s September 12 speech is not supposed to have a strategy behind it. It was billed as a discussion of the relationship between science and religion, faith and science.

But some see a political motive in Benedict’s offending quote. The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for one:

(Erdogan) insisted that the pontiff apologize to the Muslim world. When asked if the flap would affect the planned trip to Istanbul, where the pope hopes to meet with Orthodox leaders who are headquartered there, Erdogan left open the possibility of cancellation.

“I wouldn’t know,” the Turkish premier replied when asked if the trip would go forward. Erdogan said Benedict was speaking “not like a man of religion but like a usual politician.”

It has been reported that Benedict was uncomfortable with John Paul II’s efforts to engage the Muslim world in a dialogue of equals and that he favours a more confrontational approach. This may or may not have been part of his motive in quoting Manuel II Paleologus. The Pope must have been able to anticipate the reaction his neutral use of the offending quote would generate. He may be crazy but he aint stupid.

I am suggesting that Benedict was creating a controversy with some strategic purpose in mind. Right wing commentators like Kathleen Parker in this country have been swift to defend him and attack the demonstrators (Parker, by the way, seems to have missed the point of the Pope’s speech in the same manner as the Muslim demonstrators). Whether they share in a conspiracy or not, there does seem to be some community of purpose.

This week a member of the Pope’s world wide flock spoke at the UN and before he had really approached the substance of his speech had made the sign of the cross and referred to the Devil and the smell of sulfur. He also sold a few copies of Hegemony or Survival for Noam Chomsky.

The big news was that Chavez had attacked W. Bush and his foreign policy right there at the UN. He also had some ideas about the structure of the United Nations and especially the Security Council. Venezuela is in the running this year for one of the non permanent seats on the Security Council but is opposed but the U.S. Duh.

Chavez apparently upset a lot of people with his remarks. The entire political establishment, leaders of both major parties, columnists from right to leftish, right wing talk radio all let him have it with both barrels. Even the Daily Show piled on.

The Fox news right wing hack panel last night laughed about how he had really blundered by offending so many Americans – or words to that effect. But of course, Hugo Chavez is not running for anything in this country. And having own a couple of elections and referenda in Venezuela, I would wager that he knows how to think and act strategically.

I would be very surprised, and so would Hugo Chavez, if Venezuela won the Security Council seat this year. I do not doubt, however, that Venezuela has a constituency in the General Assembly that includes the 118 nations in the non-aligned movement. Whether or not Venezuela wins its seat this year or whether or not the UN reforms itself the way Chavez wants, the campaign – to limit U.S. power and to enhance the power of the Third World nations – has begun, and it looks like it is going according to plan.

The other spotlight hog at the UN this week was of course the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He played good cop to Chavez’ bad cop, but they had their story straight. Both criticized the current UN system and argued for a broader distribution of power (or what passes for power at the UN) within it. Ahmadinejad also said, and I hope he got a laugh, that Iran did not want to acquire nuclear weapons.

While in New York, the President of Iran also gave an interview to Brian Williams of NBC, during which he danced around his infamous Holocaust remarks and attacked the U.S. for its actions in the Middle East. And he doesn’t want the bomb.

Right wing opinion leaders are trying hard to make Chavez and Ahmadinejad look like crazed dictators. That is a mistake, even from the neo-con propaganda point of view. They are formidable and they are following a strategy. They are sitting on decade’s worth of oil revenue in a time when oil is growing scarcer.

The right likes to call foreign heads of state it does not like ‘dictators’. That won’t work with these two. They were both elected on more or less populist platforms; however flawed elections might be in their countries. Furthermore, they have a growing list of allies among Third World nations, and that is who they were both appeling to in their UN speeches and other events this past week.

When the Cold War ended I thought of Orwell’s 1984 and how Oceania was always at war with either East Asia or Eurasia over resources in less developed countries in Africa and Asia. I thought that a new model of perpetual warfare would eventually develop. I thought then that at some point a broad conflict could develop between the U.S. and some allies vs. the Third World. I wish I had documented those thoughts, because it looks like I was right.

Written by slothropia

September 23rd, 2006 at 9:44 am