Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Republicans

When I was in the South Pacific in January, there was only one television channel that was dependable no matter whether the ship was in Rarotonga or Rangiroa: Fox News. Once in a great while, a satellite gave us CNN, but there was always Fox News. I don’t know why that was so. Maybe Fox has better satellite coverage. I do know that the passengers were fed up with Fox’s nonstop blather about the Republican primaries. Enough already, was the anguished cry. I joined the chorus, although I am the prototypical Republican. Most of the Republican presidential wannabes are scrambling to win the favor of the hard right, which means that on foreign policy most of them are trying to sound like the second coming of Dick Cheney.

After Vietnam, we thought that the lesson had been learned. After Iraq, we thought it had been etched in our psyche. With the recent tragedies in Afghanistan, there is no doubt, right? Wrong. The hawks are in control, as they always seem to be, and a weak president, in an election year, is afraid to stand up to them. We must not cut and run, he says, when it is becoming obvious to a majority of the public that this is exactly what we should do.

Among the Republican candidates, there is only one voice that has been consistently right on foreign policy, as he is on the financial challenges we face: Ron Paul. It is unlikely that he will be the Republican candidate, but if he is, I will vote for him, enthusiastically. If he is not, I will vote for the candidate I believe is the least likely to involve us in a war where the security of this country is not directly and unambiguously threatened.

In those Republican debates, carried endlessly on Fox News, there was one topic that never came up: the circumstances that led this country to invade Iraq in 2003. No wonder. Arguably the biggest foreign policy blunder in U.S. history occurred on a Republican president’s watch. But the words of Seymour Hersch, in his book Chain of Command, are worth remembering.

How did eight or nine neo-conservatives who believed that a war in Iraq was the answer to international terrorism get their way? How did they redirect the government and rearrange long-standing American priorities and policies with so much ease? How did they overcome the bureaucracy, intimidate the press, mislead the Congress, and dominate the military? Is our democracy that fragile?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

The Society Islands

If you asked the passengers on the Rotterdam which was the most beautiful island they visited on the cruise, most would probably choose Moorea. The island is beautiful, to say the least, so beautiful that it was chosen to stand in for Bali H’ai in the film South Pacific and was used in the filming of several other movies. It has a mountainous coastline which is easily seen from Papeete, the chief city in Tahiti. Papeete is ,for that matter, the metropolis of French Polynesia.

I had been to Moorea, Bora Bora, and Tahiti before, and I had taken “grand tours” on all three islands, so my curiosity was easily satisfied by short walks around the ports. A fourth island, Raiatea, was easy to navigate because the ship docked right “downtown,” as it did it Tahiti.

I had remembered the islands as conspicuously successful, with resorts (like the Club Med at Bora Bora) doing a thriving business. Alas, the recession has reached Polynesia, and a number of resorts have closed their doors. Tourism is the economic driver for these islands, and when it's weak, Polynesia suffers..

The top photo shows the bustling streets of Papeete, the middle one shows the Rotterdam anchored at Moorea, and the bottom one shows a church at Bora Bora. The traffic in Papeete is heavy, but if a pedestrian makes just the slightest move to cross the street, it all comes to a dead stop. Either the drivers are impressively polite or the gendarmes are very strict.

In Papeete, a native lady was selling tours at dockside. Struck by her charms, I complimented her. “Polynesian women must be the most beautiful women in the world,” I said. It was hardly an original thought, but she thanked me sweetly, and then, pointing to her garland of flowers, added this:

“My flowers are not real. But I am real.”

Gauguin would have appreciated that.