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COLUMN

Mr. Bush Goes to Europe

Guest Column
Andrej Bogdanov

When most of one’s life is spent in Texas, it is not surprising that the resulting perception of the world (which, surprisingly enough, extends past the franchises of the baseball world series) turns out to be quite skewed. Expectations are high for Dubya’s first visit to Europe, as the media sets to find out how his domestic skill in “bringing the people together” will fare abroad. Granted, Europeans are friendlier people than most, especially in times of need when humanitarian concerns are at stake. Their excellent performance in the role of “international community,” when it comes to dropping bombs over Baghdad and Belgrade, is not easily forgotten. Yet, despite the good intentions, Dubya did manage to mess up some solid friendships through inadvertent talk about global warming and missile defense. Time to heal the wounds.

The choice of itinerary is somewhat mystifying. It would seem natural for Dubya to start with London, an opportunity to congratulate our friendliest partner on the other side of the Atlantic, British prime minister Tony Blair (his liberal views notwithstanding) on his landslide election victory last week. Then perhaps a short tour of Kosovo, to check up the great job that our military has done in its mission to protect human rights and rebuild the province. A great place for a few photo-ops with soldiers at work, a couple of taps on the shoulder, new nicknames invented, maybe even a tex-mex style barbeque at the NATO camp. While in the area, why not inspect Dick Cheney’s profitable oil ventures in Azerbaijan, for instance?

Because, we learn, the president has a job to do. First in Madrid, where he gets to speak a little bit of broken Spanish, if not on any relevant topics. Then, Brussels, where his job is to reassure NATO allies that Kosovo will remain business as usual, at least for a couple more years. On to Sweden, where he will have a chance to argue that global warming is a faith-based thing, which he is not personally inclined to believe in. Next stop Warsaw, a great place to extol the virtues of fair elections and the wonders of the new world order. Finally, Slovenia. Slovenia? One can think of no good reason for going there, unless he insists on apologizing personally for calling the country Slovakia on a rather embarrassing occasion last year. It turns out that there is more at stake -- Russian colleague Putin will be there himself.

The topic of the two-hour-long discussion between the statesmen of these two old-time foes will be, we find out, Putin’s reluctance to scrap the 1972 international ban on ballistic missile defense. Perhaps a few convincing arguments from Dubya will help Putin change his mind. If not, we can quickly brush off this inconvenience with “expert legal opinion,” popular in the media lately, according to which a nod from Putin is quite unnecessary because the treaty is already invalid. It was ratified by a so-called Soviet Union, and, as is intuitively obvious, Russia is no match for this serious arch-enemy, the treaty is mere pulp. It doesn’t do to mention that according to this logic, our own “humanitarian mission” over Serbia two years ago can hardly be justified, for none of the human-rights convention violations, which formed the basis of the intervention, were ratified by Serbia. No human rights abuses. No Geneva convention violations. No war criminals.

Yet perhaps going through the motions of negotiations is a good exercise for the master of bipartisanship. After all, missile defense is good for everyone, the Russians included, as Dubya explained eloquently at a press conference in Madrid: “The ABM treaty is a relic of the past. It prevents freedom-loving people from exploring the future and that’s why we’ve got to lay it aside, and that’s why we’ve got to have the discussions necessary to explain to our friends and allies as well as Russia that our intent is to make the world more peaceful, not more dangerous.”

“Freedom-loving people,” we learn, like to “explore the future,” especially when it comes in the form of a $60 billion government subsidy to the defense industry. What is at stake here is the peace of our allies, for we cannot anticipate the impact of Saddam’s rich nuclear arsenal on the freedom-loving world in between bombing rounds over Iraqi cities. Or will famine-struck North Korea be the first rogue nation to dare challenge our glorious quest of “exploring the future”?

Unfortunately, we have no time to ask such questions, for we must move as quickly as possible. As Time reports in a typical tone, the “big battle” was already won at the European Union meeting in Munich last February, when the administration took the liberty to assert that missile defense “would go ahead no matter what.” No matter how expensive, no matter how useful, no matter how popular among its “freedom-loving people.” The freedom-loving people can sit back, relax, and rest assured that this porous umbrella called missile defense, inspired by some cheap B-movie starring Ronald Reagan, watches over our prosperous world.

Andrej Bogdanov is a graduate student in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.