Friday, March 07, 2003
The view from Princeton, N.J.: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman (who needs to take longer vacations) weighs in once more with an insightful analysis of U.S.-Mexico relations more than 1,500 miles away from the border.
The point of Krugman's column, is that the U.S. officials have suggested that if Mexico, which has a seat on the U.N. Security Council, fails to vote with the United States on the latest proposed resolution that there might be some bad feelings between the countries.
But Mexico's seat on the U.N. Security Council gives it a vote on the question of Iraq -- and the threats the Bush administration has made to get that vote are quickly destroying any semblance of good will.
Last week The Economist quoted an American diplomat who warned that if Mexico didn't vote for a U.S. resolution it could "stir up feelings" against Mexicans in the United States. He compared the situation to that of Japanese-Americans who were interned after 1941, and wondered whether Mexico "wants to stir the fires of jingoism during a war."
Incredible stuff, but easy to dismiss as long as the diplomat was unidentified. Then came President Bush's Monday interview with Copley News Service. He alluded to the possibility of reprisals if Mexico didn't vote America's way, saying, "I don't expect there to be significant retribution from the government" ? emphasizing the word "government." He then went on to suggest that there might, however, be a reaction from other quarters, citing "an interesting phenomena taking place here in America about the French . . . a backlash against the French, not stirred up by anybody except the people."
And Mr. Bush then said that if Mexico or other countries oppose the United States, "there will be a certain sense of discipline."
These remarks went virtually unreported by the ever-protective U.S. media, but they created a political firestorm in Mexico. The White House has been frantically backpedaling, claiming that when Mr. Bush talked of "discipline" he wasn't making a threat. But in the context of the rest of the interview, it's clear that he was.
Well, the context of the rest of the interview depends on how predisposed you are to seeing nefarious motives in whatever the Bush administration does -- something that Krugman has repeatedly demonstrated he is particularly talented at doing.
From the Copley Press article:
If Mexico -- or other countries -- oppose the United States, he said, "There will be a certain sense of discipline." But he quickly added, "I expect Mexico to be with us."
He joked about a comment in yesterday's New York Times suggesting that Bush "does keep score" when countries oppose him. "I wouldn't believe everything you read," he said with a laugh.
Krugman then, ever in tune to what is happening near the border, suggests that remarks that "went virtually unreported by the ever-protective U.S. media" would spur a wave of violence (?) against all Hispanics.
Moreover, Mr. Bush was disingenuous when he described the backlash against the French as "not stirred up by anybody except the people." On the same day that the report of his interview appeared, The Financial Times carried the headline, "Hastert Orchestrates Tirade Against the French." That's Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House of Representatives. In fact, anti-French feeling has been carefully fomented by Republican officials, Rupert Murdoch's media empire and other administration allies. Can you blame Mexicans for interpreting Mr. Bush's remarks as a threat to do the same to them?
So oderint dum metuant it is. I could talk about the foolishness of such blatant bullying ? or about the incredible risks, in a multiethnic, multiracial society, of even hinting that one might encourage a backlash against Hispanics. And yes, I mean Hispanics, not Mexicans: once feelings are running high, do you really think people will politely ask a brown-skinned guy with an accent whether he is a citizen or, if not, which country he comes from?
But my most intense reaction to this story isn't anger over the administration's stupidity and irresponsibility, or even dismay over the casual destruction of hard-won friendships. No, when I read an interview in which the U.S. president sounds for all the world like a B-movie villain ? "You have relatives in Texas, yes?" ? what I feel, above all, is shame.
Mexico has a decision to make. I'd be surprised if Mexico didn't vote with the U.S., for the simple reason that it has nothing to gain, and everything to lose from opposing us. Mexico, as Krugman has noted in the past, seeks changes to U.S. immigration policy -- it would be smart to support the newest Iraq resolution -- seen by the Bush administration as a national security issue. If Mexico shows concern for our national security in the wake of 9/11, then it is more likely to eventually win concessions on guest-worker policies.
Americans, from Krugman's ivory tower, are merely sheep to be guided by the speaker of the House. I'm a news junkie. I spend a lot of my time (probably too much) reading newspapers, blogs, etc. and I hadn't seen the Financial Times piece he refers to. I suspect that most people in America have no idea what Hastert says on a daily basis -- he's not exactly the most high profile Republican politician. The Americans who are ticked-off at the French don't need Hastert to tell them to be ticked-off. We see through the French holier-than-thou attitude which merely covers up the huge financial interest they have in seeing the continued rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
So, to Paul Krugman, President Bush sounds like a B-movie villain? Well, that's certainly an improvement over what Krugman has called him before.