Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The mouse that cheered - full text

The mouse that cheered

Bush went to Albania and Bulgaria for a sympathetic hearing. But he should have had a history lesson in Rome - seat of another fallen empire.
Ian Williams
Guardian Comment is Free

June 11, 2007

Truly is it written, a good wine needs no Bush. I was in Rome in the Piazza Navona on Saturday, and knew that the US president was in the neighbourhood. The whiff of tear gas from the anti-Iraq demonstrations still lingered, lending piquancy to the bottle of the local Frascati we quaffed in one of the restaurants brave enough to stay open.

Rome should have been a learning experience for the president. All around are the ruins that show that even the mightiest empires can come a cropper. But even the founding fathers missed that message when they set up the American Republic and modelled it on its Roman antecedents rather more closely than they thought.
The rose-tinted view of history, like the equally rose-tinted view of the present, lends itself to simplification: civilisation against the barbarians, the democracies against the terrorists.

Rome at its apogee was a ferocious aggressor, whose politics were fuelled by massive corruption and injustice, and which felt no need for diplomats because they had the legions. It made war on all its neighbours and sold the defeated as slaves, with no thought for anything like the Geneva conventions. Its major public buildings, like the Stadium of Domitian - now the Piazza Navona - were places where prisoners were forced to kill each other in public for the entertainment of the masses. Empires are built on moral decline. The fall follows.

So if the president were aware of these imperial antecedents, he doubtless felt very much at home in Rome, even if the new Italian government has pulled its troops out of Iraq and is resisting pressure to send some to Afghanistan, and even if the Italian courts have proceedings against the CIA for abducting people from Italy and against a US soldier for killing an Italian agent who was rescuing a journalist.

Bush's visit to the Vatican could symbolize the beginning of the end to the schism between the evangelical Protestant right and the Church of Rome, with an increasingly shared agenda between Catholic and Baptist conservatives. But did he notice that the Pope was upset because, on account of the war in Iraq, the millennia-old Christian population of Iraq is being driven from their homes? Or that the Pope is strongly against the death penalty and wants justice for the Palestinians? Probably not. But then he may wanted the Grand Fenwickian uniformed Swiss Guards for surge service in Iraq.

Which, of course, brings us to the Duchy of Grand Fenwick. You may remember that the Duchy was the tiny country in the Mouse that Roared which decided that, in a world dominated by a benign and generous superpower, the surest way to wealth was to standout from all the loyal allies and declare war on the US, surrender, and then sit back to enjoy the resulting tidal wave of popularity.

Times have changed, and tiny Albania has cottoned on. The new Empire follows Rome in making deserts and calling them victories. In a world characterised by almost universal suspicion of Washington, not least because of its somewhat unforgiving, and indeed rather Roman, response to opposition, the Albanians have chosen to stand out from the rest of the world and embrace the Empire with an embarrassing enthusiasm.

But one cannot help suspecting that they are in some measure as intellectually isolated as they were under Enver Hoxha. Those Italian demonstrators in Rome showed no hostility to Americans, but to Bush. Roman taxi drivers and waiters alike had the courtesy to assume that their English-speaking guests shared their antipathy to the president and his policies. Someone should tell the Albanians that few Americans share their support for George Bush - and that there is no crock of gold waiting for them.

And the rest of us should note that Bush is feeling so isolated that he needed to go to two of the smallest countries in the world to get a sympathetic hearing.

1 comment:

LP said...

Have you seen his watch being snatched while he was with the Albanian crowd?