A View From The Handbasket

Friday, June 16, 2006
Christmas at the White House
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:39 AM
Pick your cliche -- what goes up must come down, to everything there is a season, what goes around comes around (or is that the other way around?), etc. and so on. The last couple of weeks have been a mini-reversal of fortunes for the hapless administration, with a few pieces of news that must have been received like gifts on Christmas morning.

Probably the most important of these, from an "actual impact on the world" point of view, is the formation of an Iraqi government. No one can honestly deny that this is an important step forward in restoring stability to the chaos we've created. (Which, if I could go off on a tangent for a moment, is something the GOP remains obtusely unwilling to concede. In current debate over the bill before the House that basically says, "No timetable for withdrawal, there are terrorists to fight," the Republicans are lining up to regurgitate the line about Iraq being the "central front in the war on terror," and talk about how al Qaeda is in Iraq which is why we can't leave. Which is at the very least a funhouse mirror version of reality -- the real world saw the US invade an Iraq which contained relatively little al Qaeda activity (compared to the other nations in the region) and through a botched occupation create an environment where al Qaeda could flourish. And this, apparently, is why we can't leave. Good thing for the GOP no one pays attention to what Congress is saying anymore.)

In their haste to get more coverage for this development, the administration pulled out the biggest headline magnet at their disposal -- flying Bush in to bless the new regime. Inadvertently, though, this massive photo-op pointed up some lingering loose ends in the tidy package they wanted us to see. For one, we were treated to the odd sight of administration officials bundled up in helmets and body armor as they were ferried by helicopter from the airport to the heavily fortified embassy. (Presumably the President was equally armored, though we didn't get to see any photos of that.) Not exactly the image of stability they were hoping for.

Even more jarring, we were told that the new Prime Minister of Iraq didn't even know that Bush was coming until a matter of minutes before the President appeared before him and hurried him off to a conference room. If the administration wished to share their excitement that Iraq now had a sovereign government, this was a very odd way to show it. They clearly didn't trust this government, even the new Prime Minister, enough to inform them that Bush was coming. Imagine for a moment Vladimir Putin flying in secret into Washington, walking into the Oval Office, grabbing Bush and hauling him into a press conference full of Russian reporters. The training wheels are clearly still on.

Also under the tree was a box containing the corpse of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Though the public response from the White House was notably muted (no "Mission Accomplished" banners were unfurled), they clearly didn't mind the testosterone-fueled press coverage and prominent display of Zarqawi's lifeless face. The actual impact of Zarqawi's death is still unknown, as his perceived importance is due at least in part to the administration's relentless hyping of him as the link between Iraq and al Qaeda. We'll have to wait and see if this is an instance of the box being more fun than the actual present.

Karl Rove's stocking was filled with a welcome token from Patrick Fitzgerald -- no plans to indict. What we don't know yet is if any strings were attached to this gift. Was this a cooperation deal? No one's saying.

Of course, every day's like Christmas as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The Smoking Gun has published a fascinating disclosure document listing a variety of fabulous booty bestowed on various administration officials by their counterparts in foreign governments in 2004. A few highlights:

  • A $10,000 sniper rifle for Bush from King Abdullah of Jordan.
  • Also for Bush, DVD copies of "Singin' In The Rain" and "To Kill A Mockingbird" from the Sultan of Brunei, part of a cornucopia of goodies from the Sultan in June of 2004 that also included a box set of jazz CDs, a scented candle, a Christmas tree ornament, a picture frame, a pair of champagne flutes, and other seemingly random items that suggested the Sultan popped by Bed Bath and Beyond on his way to the White House to grab a few things, having forgotten to bring something from home.
  • Bush received a braided leather whip from the Prime Minister of Hungary. More investigation is clearly needed here.
  • The President of Ireland cheekily gave Bush a copy of the "Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook."
  • The big winner in the report is Colin Powell, who got a $24,500 woman's necklace from Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia.
  • Cheney made do with, among other things, a rare copy of "The Art Of War" valued at $3600 from the Vice President of China.
  • The Defense Minister of South Korea gave Rumsfeld a framed picture titled "Weeds and Insects," and he got a 3 foot sword from the Defense Minister of Denmark.
  • Finally, you can picture Rummy enjoying some aromatherapy courtesy of the generous King of Jordan.

All this loot (about $140,000 worth by my count), of course, was turned over to various archives and agencies.

An interesting postscript: all this stuff was accepted because "non-acceptance would have caused embarrassment to donor and U.S. government." Normal human beings, of course, would be far more embarrassed to give and receive such indulgent crap, knowing that it would just molder away in some warehouse forevermore.

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