St. Petersburg, Tuesday. The President of the United States, unplugged.
GWB: Hey Blair, howya doin'? Like your tie. You British do stripes real good.
TB: Thank you so much.
GWB: Not a problem. Now gimme your take on this Middle East shit.
TB: Well, you see, you've got Hezbollah …
GWB: Remind me, Blair. Them the Jewish guys or the Islamic guys?
TB: They're the bad guys.
GWB: Got it. Who's the chick over there with the hot boobies?
TB: Do you mean the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel?
GWB: Kraut, huh? Now here's what we do with the Middle East thing: the Israelis get two weeks to kick ass, let the UN screw up, then Condi fixes a ceasefire. Sound good to you, Blair?
TB: Just what I was thinking myself, actually.
GWB: Done deal. But, hey, gotta get back to Washington. Some serious stuff goin' down with Cheney and Rummy tonight.
GWB: Nope. New York Yankees playin' the Boston Red Sox. Got $100 on the Sox with Dick.
TB: I hope that microphone is not turned on, George.
Poor bloody Lebanon. Three thousand years ago the great cities of Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre were at the civilized center of the known universe, their Phoenician traders commanding the Mediterranean to Spain and beyond, venturing as far north as the tin mines of Cornwall.
In the centuries since, what we know as modern Lebanon has been raped and pillaged by the predators of history: Persians, Greeks, Romans, Armenians, the Crusaders, the Ottomans, the French, the Syrians. Now, not long recovered from a hideous civil war, a fragile Lebanese democracy reels beneath the hammer blows of the Israelis.
George Bush, Condoleezza Rice and, for that matter, John Howard, can bleat forever about Israel's right to defend itself, but we are witnessing an obscenity. On all sides. The targeted Israeli air strike which murders children in a Beirut suburb is as much a crime against humanity as an indiscriminate Hezbollah rocket crashing into downtown Haifa. There are no gradations of immorality. It is total.
Bush's buffoonery in St. Petersburg - manhandling Merkel, dropping the "shit" word - were funny or offensive, depending on your take on these things. But there is no humor in the fact that American policy in the Middle East now lies in ruins. The neo-conservative fantasy of a swift war in Iraq magically spreading peace and democracy throughout the region has brought nothing but catastrophe.
Sooner or later, when Hezbollah has killed enough Israeli civilians, and the Israelis have killed enough Lebanese, some sort of ceasefire will happen. But new hatreds will pile upon the old. The seeds are sown. Next, the whirlwind.
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© 2006 The Sydney Morning Herald