Wednesday, March 09, 2005

"When you call me that, smile!"

From the newsrooms.

The Toronto Star: Bush demands Syria quit Lebanon by May

George W. Bush, saying the time for delaying tactics and half-measures has passed, has set a May deadline for Syria's full withdrawal from Lebanon. ... "Today, I have a message for the people of Lebanon," Bush said. "All the world is witnessing your great movement of conscience. "Lebanon's future belongs in your hands, and by your courage, Lebanon's future will be in your hands. The American people are on your side."

Reuters: IRA "must go" after N.Irish shooting offer

The United States has demanded the IRA disband after the paramilitary group's astonishing offer to shoot the killers of a murdered Northern Ireland Catholic man. "It's time for the IRA to go out of business," said U.S. special envoy Mitchell Reiss on Wednesday. ... Reiss told BBC radio: "It's time for Sinn Fein to be able to say explicitly, without ambiguity, without ambivalence, that criminality will not be tolerated."

The Boston Globe:

Five sisters who have waged a rare public campaign against intimidation by the Irish Republican Army following the killing of their brother have been invited to the White House on St. Patrick's Day, the US envoy to Northern Ireland said yesterday. ... One of the slain man's sisters, Catherine McCartney, said she hoped President Bush could help bring his killers to justice. ''The case we'll put to Bush will be the same as it has been to everybody here in Ireland: that these men must be brought to justice, and he should use whatever influence he has to make that happen," she said.

The problem with trying to reconstruct events from historical records is that words taken by themselves convey a very partial meaning. A future historian might argue that Kofi Annan could have imparted the very same message of encouragement to the Lebanese people in far better style than George Bush. But would it have possessed the same semantic charge? Many a British politician has exhorted the IRA to close down with the complete force of logic behind them and the powers of unsurpassable rhetoric at their service -- and yet would they have the significance of the US special envoy's ultimatum? On the many occasions when victims of injustice have been invited by dignitaries for symbolic consolation, very few have at one and the same time managed to convey a veiled threat. 

It would be a bold counselor who would advise President Assad to relax. Nor would it occur to Gerry Adams to jokingly inquire whether the words "explicitly, without ambiguity, without ambivalence" mean definitely. Jokes are something you make to the French. Things have got to be real simple for the Chimp. Or maybe the problem is that they have gotten too complicated for the sophisticates of the world when they should have been simple to start with. Historians know that beyond mere words there is context and it is to sentences what a fist is to a boxing glove. Maybe that's what Teddy Roosevelt meant when he said, "speak softly and carry a big stick".