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the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Nothing Sweeter to Bush than Revenge

WASHINGTON -- Revenge must be very sweet, considering the hard-nosed approach the Bush administration takes toward those who opposed the president's decision to invade Iraq.

President Bush's personal grudge against several nations is still obvious, including France, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Canada, Mexico and Chile.

There was a period in the lead-up to the war when White House press secretary Ari Fleischer made it clear that the president wasn't accepting telephone calls from some of the leaders who had rebuffed him on the question of going to war.

France especially remains in the U.S. doghouse. French diplomats have complained about rumors that they had given visas to fleeing Iraqi leaders. Not so, said the French in a vigorous denial.

Even more sinister, Secretary of State Colin Powell -- in an uncharacteristic role as the godfather-enforcer for the administration -- has been lecturing straying nations that they will be punished for their stand against the war. As he puts it, they will suffer the "consequences." The exact penalties are never spelled out but the ominous threat is left hanging.

Some diplomacy!

German leader Gerhard Schroeder felt the sting when he sought a one-on-one meeting with Bush at the G-8 Economic Summit in Evian, France, next week only to be informed that there "won't be time."

Bush cancelled a May 5 visit to Canada to display his displeasure with Prime Minister Jean Chretien's stand on the war.

Relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which had been friendly and close, turned sour temporarily after Russia opposed the war. The Bush administration made a big show of slowing down its efforts to persuade Congress to repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law. Repeal of the law, which ties trade to an easing of Russian emigration, has been a long-sought goal of Russia.

More recently Putin has written to Bush seeking cooperation "at all levels."

Turkey wound up on the hit list when the Turkish people rebelled against U.S. wishes and denied use of their soil for U.S. forces to attack Iraq.

Chile, which also opposed the war, paid a price when Bush delayed signing the long-sought free trade agreement. The U.S. trade representative now will ink the pact June 6 in Miami.


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Meantime, the United States and Britain have taken control of Iraq's economy and its oil fields. The Bush administration gave contracts to Halliburton -- Vice President Cheney's old company -- and to Bechtel -- where former Secretary of State George Shultz is on the board -- without competitive bidding.

The United Nations will be given minimal authority in the reconstruction and economic revival.

Powell was in Paris recently for a meeting with seven foreign ministers of the Western industrialized states to make preparations for the upcoming G-8 summit.

Asked by reporters whether the United States intended to punish the French, Powell replied, "No," but added a chilling observation:

"You take note of those who disagree with you, and you try to find out why and if it is appropriate to draw some conclusions. And consequences follow those conclusions."

Rumors that Bush planned to stay at a hotel in nearby Switzerland in order to snub his French host, President Jacques Chirac, were denied.

Pentagon officials said they were reviewing plans for joint military exercises with France and other countries "in the light of changed circumstances." One spokesman confirmed that the French would not be invited to the so-called "Red Flag" Air Force exercise in Nevada next year.

All of this makes the United States look pretty petty. The Bush administration is demanding an oath of unquestioning loyalty from its allies. Those that fail to toe the line now must seek forgiveness on bended knee.

The Bush administration has treated the United Nations in the same autocratic way.

Is everyone supposed to march in lockstep with the United States?

While the accent is on punishment of those who dare to disagree, the leaders of friendly nations get the full charm treatment. They may be invited to a White House state dinner or to the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, where nearly a dozen world leaders have been hosted as a symbol of presidential appreciation that they are loyal members of the team.

Bush would do better on the international stage if he would mend relations with old and trusted friends, instead of alienating and isolating them as he now seems bent on doing. The world would be better off.

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books, she was the author of "Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times" (2000) and "Watchdogs of Democracy?: The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public" (2007). Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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