Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bush and Rudd at a press conference earlier today, plus Iraq

The Whitehouse website helpfully offers a transcript. Allow me to summarise Bush's introductory remarks somewhat:

Kevin Rudd is a straight shooter. I'm from Texas. Texans like people who are straight shooters. Being from Texas, I like straight shooters. So I like Kevin Rudd.

*facepalm* I'm not sure exactly when I started to get really annoyed at Bush's folksy reminders to everyone that he's from Texas and he's what Texans are like. At least the Australian public had the sense to realise last election that the nerdy policy wonk was a better choice as leader than the old guy running on a platform of "I'm just like you, my fellow Australians! PS: Tax cuts!"

Yay human rights and the rule of law. Yay free trade. China and India are the main obstacles to international co-operation on the environment, not us. Technology has cures for what ails the environment, so buy our technologies and don't put up tariffs that will obstruct our buyers. Rudd's fully committed to keeping troops in Afghanistan. Did I mention the importance that Australia and America both put on the commitment fighting in Afghanistan? Afghanistan is very important because we're promoting freedom and democracy there....oh shit, I'm going to have to say something about Iraq, aren't I?

Rudd has a "campaign commitment" about Iraq. He said he'd pull troops out, so let me pull my "I like straight shooters" schtick to show that I'm okay with him doing what he said he'd do. He did ask us nicely first, so don't make it like he's putting his own people's desires above what America says he should be doing, that would make me look bad. The commitment of Afghanistan is not to leave Iraq alone; it's to change mission.

That last sentence is a direct quote. Whatever could it mean?

See how Kevin Rudd helped out Nouri Al-Maliki? He believes in what I'm doing to Iraq, really he does. Ignore the "campaign commitment" to withdraw troops and focus on the money he's giving to teach Iraqis how to do dry-land farming properly. And on a final note: BOO! IRAN

Doing that to Bush's ideological grandstanding makes it so much more bearable.

On a more serious note, there's some good overview in there that clarifies a few policy positions held by Rudd, and even some of those held by Bush. Rudd for instance is fully committed to global trade, and is hoping that the upcoming Doha talks will be a good thing. He's hoping for what he calls a "a psychological injection of some confidence in the arm" to the global economy from a positive outcome there, however "positive outcome" is defined.

I really dislike my ignorance on the matter of global economics, you know? Wish I could elucidate on that comment from Rudd more.

Rudd has also promised to give a $165 million dollar assistance package "a large slice of which will go to how we assist Iraqis train their people better in agriculture and in the wider economy." There at least I have a slightly better understanding of the underlying theory driving Rudd's actions. As mentioned elsewhere, Rudd believes "that it's failing economies" that "cause social and political instability". The idea is a common one on the Left and goes back to Kennedy's time: that social transformation comes about through the economic drivers of building infrastructrure, funding education, reducing unemployment and so forth. The success of such an approach is arguable at best.

I do hope that someone's keeping tabs on that $165 million as well. The last thing we need is to see something similar to the AWB's corruption in the oil-for-food scheme.

As might be expected, the questions from the press mostly focused on the situation on Iraq, particularly the Iraqi government's crackdown on Basra. I don't really buy Bush's line that this is a simple case of the good guys (the Maliki government) cracking down on the bad guys (unspecified "evil-doers", but basically it seems like the main target is Moktada Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army). I do find it interesting that he claimed ignorance about why Maliki did what he did: "And so I'm not exactly sure what triggered the Prime Minister's response. I don't know if it was one phone call. I don't know what -- whether or not the local mayor called up and said, help -- we're sick and tired of dealing with these folks. But nevertheless, he made the decision to move. And we'll help him."

One popular theory is that Maliki cracked down on Basra not at the instigation of Bush, but of Dick Cheney, based on the fact that Cheney visited Iraq not long before this crackdown occurred. A less America-centric version says this is Iran's show, based on Ahmedinejad's recent visit to the region. That last link explores the various theories in more detail.

Iraq is, as usual, confusing. But I feel obligated to try and make sense of it given my belief that it was naivety and ignorance of the Iraq situation that brought me down on the wrong side of the question of the Iraq invasion initially. I try to follow as best I can.

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