Thursday, February 27, 2003

Fidel Goes to China
BEIJING (AP) - As Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba in 1959, China was in the throes of an ultimately catastrophic push toward converting all private farms to communes. Yet while the Cuban leader stuck doggedly to his communist guns, China over the past decades junked such dreams of utopia and transformed a vast, agrarian state into one of the world's chief market economies. For the 76-year-old Castro, who last visited China seven years ago, the difference was bewildering. ``I can't really be sure just now what kind of China I am visiting, because the first time I visited, your country appeared one way and now when I visit it appears another way,'' Castro said Thursday in a meeting with the head of China's legislature, Li Peng. ``You can say that every so often your country undergoes great changes.''
It's called prosperity, Fidel. You wouldn't know what that is...
China and Cuba are two of the last remaining one-party communist states, but the similarity just about ends there. Cuba muddles on with a planned communist economy still reeling from the loss of Soviet subsidies. Meanwhile, China has become aggressively mercantile, growing into the world's manufacturing powerhouse. Its cities are littered with new high-rises, their streets clogged with vehicles.
Impressive, what junking the Five Year Plan approach does, isn't it?
Castro was briefed on China's economic reforms by Vice Premier Wen Jiabao, the country's No. 2 economic official, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It paraphrased Castro as saying ``China's future was certain to be prosperous.''
And Cuba used to be...
No other details - including whether they discussed the possibility of applying Chinese-style reform in Cuba - were immediately released.
My guess is "no." Implementing capitalism -- which is what China's got -- means admitting he's been screwing around for the past 44 years....
China and Cuba ran along parallel communist tracks for years after Castro took power. China undertook first the Great Leap, which created a famine that killed an estimated 30 million people, and then the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong's convulsive last attempt at perpetuating his revolution. Their histories began to diverge, though, as China embarked on reforms after Mao's death in 1976. Beginning in the 1980s, the planned economy was steadily dismantled, setting the stage for today's relative prosperity - even while the Communist Party maintained its stranglehold on political power.
Demonstrating, lest we forget, that the form of government can be irrelevant, as long as the citizenry has a measure of individual liberty. An oligarchy, which is what they rightly have now, can work just as well as a repubic. It just offers more opportunities and temptations for abuse. Compared to the U.S., or to Taiwan, or to Japan, the Chinese are still regimented. Compared to China in the throes of the Great Cultural Revolution they're free as little birdies.
The basis of that growth - foreign investment totaling hundreds of billions of dollars and the emergence of a dynamic private sector - remain largely alien concepts in Castro's Cuba. China now provides hundreds of millions of dollars in economic credits to Cuba, as well as some direct aid. Castro's talks with Chinese President Jiang Zemin earlier this week focused on economic ties and concluded with the signing of an economic cooperation agreement and Chinese aid package for Cuba. Castro met later Thursday with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji, who praised Castro's leadership and ``insistence on Cuba's national sovereignty and people's independence in complicated and ever-changing times.''
He's being indulgent of his poor relations. I wonder if Fidel cringed?
He spoke also with Vice President Hu Jintao and Vice Premier Wen Jiabao. Hu and Wen are expected to take over as China's president and premier, respectively, at the annual legislative session beginning next week.
Fidel's got a little problem here, and he's probably too old and set in his ways to do anything about it. It must cut the old man to the quick to see the empirical evidence of his failure.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Holding peace in contempt
By Molly Ivins
Originally published February 25, 2003
AUSTIN, Texas -- Before we all work ourselves into such righteous snits we can't even talk to one another anymore, let's see what we can agree on. Wanting to get rid of Saddam Hussein does not make anyone a bloodthirsty monster or a tool of the oil companies. Being worried to death about the consequences of invading Iraq does not make anyone unpatriotic or in favor of Saddam Hussein.
Sweet reason? From Molly? Okay, where's the hook?
Whether it's better to kill the snake or leave the snake alone, that is one question. But the question we're stuck on now is whether there's a better choice. Some of us think containment can work, and the reason we think so is because it already has. More Iraqi weapons were destroyed by U.N. inspectors in the '90s than were destroyed by the gulf war. Why not see if it will work this time? What about a U.N. resolution saying, "Any place Saddam Hussein doesn't let the inspectors go into gets bombed immediately"?
Depends on the type weapons destroyed. Tanks, APCs, and artillery pieces weren't on the inspectors' destruction lists. While the "gets bombed immediately" resolution might sound good to Molly, it's doubtful it'd ever pass. If it did pass, it's doubtful the Frenchies, Fritzies, and Arabs would let it be implemented without at least eight weeks of hollering debate, during which time anything of interest would be moved out.
The president did an unfortunate disservice to the cause of reasonable debate Feb. 18 when he said of the worldwide demonstration against the impending war: "Some in the world don't view Saddam Hussein as a risk to peace. I respectfully disagree." Painting the antiwar movement as pro-Hussein gets us nowhere.
Ummm... They're not conspicuously anti-Sammy. Ramsey Clark, in fact, thinks he's just a dear...
What the Europeans are trying to say is not that they think Mr. Hussein is harmless -- we've got near-universal agreement that the man is a miserable jerk, including, as near as one can tell, from most Iraqis. The difference is over how to handle him, and the United States has put itself in the unfortunate position of looking as though we'd rather go to war, unprovoked, than work at a way to defang Mr. Hussein peacefully. It is this bellicosity that is so unbecoming to us and so troubling to many of our allies. Why this disdainful dismissal of a peaceful alternative?
Maybe Molly should have a quick peek at why the Iraqis, especially those outside the country, don't like Sammy. Even without WMDs, he's still a bloody-handed dictator who represents a danger to life and limb, not to mention dignity and bank account, of everyone else in the country. The only people who might be safe from him are his two sons, who're chips off the old block. Even if Sammy disarmed today and played by the international book of rules, his citizenry would still be stuck with him.
It seems to me quite reasonable that friends might differ over whether Mr. Hussein is better handled by invasion or by containment. Why this should lead to our throwing around names likes "Euroweenies" and "EUnuchs" is beyond me.
For approximately the same reason Bush and Co. are compared to the Third Reich every three days or so, only with more basis in fact.
Timothy Garton Ash, a British writer, put his finger on an important aspect of American anti-Europeanism: "The most outspoken American Euro-bashers are neoconservatives using the same sort of combative rhetoric they have habitually deployed against American liberals," he wrote. Precisely.
Either that, or people who're disgusted by the excesses of American leftism tend to become neoconservatives, and thery're tired of shutting up and taking what the lefties dish out without response. The lefties don't appear to like the fact.
Richard Perle, chair of the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Board, goes around Europe behaving as though he thought he were on Crossfire, and Donald Rumsfeld is just as bad. Crossfire combatants are not noted for their diplomacy. Using the language of right-wing radio talk-show hosts, complete with macho posturing, is reassuring to no one.
Whereas telling Eastern Europe to shut the hell up is...
Mr. Bush once described something as "the language of diplomatic nuanced circles." One could wish he were rather more practiced in it. It is not reassuring to be told we are going to war because he "has already seen this movie" and is bored by it. Far be it from me to discourage blunt speaking, but issues of war and peace are not aided by displays of petty impatience. There is something deeply unserious about it.
What Molly's missing here, probably because she wants to, is the fact that the Bush team is actually engaged in some pretty intricate diplomacy, building a coalition not only of the willing, but also of the hesitant and the fearful, even while fighting off diplomatic countermoves from the Frenchies and, to a lesser extent, the Fritzies and the Arabs. The Arabs, in particular, are in disarray, and Chirac has managed to lose it so severely on at least one occasion that it'll take him years to mend those fences.
It is this flip, cavalier streak in our foreign policy, the contemptuous dismissal of peaceful alternatives, that is making some Europeans conclude this administration is dangerous. What your momma told you about flies and honey is still true. Why not try persuasion instead of bullying? For that matter, why not see if the inspections work before we go racing into this "preventive war"?
Do you think another twelve years should be enough? Or should we give them more?
The diplomatic situation continues to deteriorate. Not to use the language of "diplomatic nuanced circles," Turkey held us up for a bigger bribe. The Bush administration has made a complete hash of North Korean policy. On Feb. 5, the deputy director of the North Korean foreign ministry, Ri Pyong-gap, told The Guardian: "The U.S. says that after Iraq we are next. But we have our own countermeasures. Pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the U.S." Great, just what we worried about when Mr. Bush first announced this pre-emptive war doctrine -- it's catching.
The North Koreans didn't become our enemies because they went onto the Axis of Evil list; they went onto the Axis of Evil list because they're our enemies. They announce this on a near daily basis in their press. Molly's not paying attention...
In Africa, they think the United States is trying to sabotage the United Nations because it is now headed by Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian. Even Nelson Mandela said, "Both Bush as well as Tony Blair are trying to undermine an idea [the United Nations] that was supported by their predecessors. Is this because the secretary-general is now a black man? They never did that when secretary-generals were white."
Slinging the race card was pretty over-the-top of old Nelson. He also managed to color Annan's predecessor a darker shade, and to imply that Iraqis are, if not black, then certainly very dark. The race card was also flung when we went into Afghanistan, another war that Molly opposed, implying that the mostly-just-as-white-as-Molly-is Afghans were, ummm... brown. Or maybe black. It's entirely possible to regard Kofi as a paragon of ineptitude without taking his skin shade into consideration at all. If one closes one's eyes, he's just as ineffectual as when they're open.
Look, the rest of the world is deeply worried about the possibility that this war could set off a holocaust. That is not a concern that should be treated with contemptuous dismissal.
Neither is the possibility that Sammy and/or his allies will visit another attack on this country on a par with 9-11. Bin Laden declared war on us. Only the stupid work hard at forgetting that fact. And bin Laden makes common cause with Sammy, even though he regards Sammy as an infidel. If Bush is wrong, and Sammy isn't as much of a threat as he thought, the Iraqis are still freed of an oppressive dictatorship and they can start spending their oil money on groceries instead of building the Fourth Largest Army in the World® and gobbling up Kuwait. If Molly is wrong, and Bush takes her advice, and Austin is wiped out in a smallpox plague, it'll be a bit late to say "Whoops. Y'shouldn't have listened to me."