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Sunday, November 19, 2006

The 15 minute visit

The sacrifice of your comrades was worth
exactly 15 minutes of George Bush's time

Unlike Clinton, Bush Sees Hanoi in Bit of a Hurry

Published: November 19, 2006

HANOI, Vietnam, Sunday, Nov. 19 — President Bush likes speed golf and speed tourism — this is the man who did the treasures of Red Square in less than 20 minutes — but here in the lake-studded capital of a nation desperately eager to connect with America, he set a record.

On Saturday, Mr. Bush emerged from his hotel for only one nonofficial event, a 15-minute visit to the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command, which searches for the remains of the 1,800 Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War.

There were almost no Vietnamese present, just a series of tables displaying photographs of the group’s painstaking work, and helmets, shoes and replicas of bones recovered by the 425 members of the command. He asked a few questions and then sped off in his motorcade.

On Sunday morning, Mr. Bush attended an ecumenical church service in an old French-built Catholic basilica to underscorce the need for greater religious freedom.

But the mood of this trip could not have been more different from the visit of another president, Bill Clinton, exactly six years ago this weekend, when he seemed to be everywhere.

And while the difference says much about the personalities of two presidents who both famously avoided serving in the war here, it reveals a lot about how significantly times have changed — and perhaps why America’s “public diplomacy” seems unable to shift into gear.

In 2000, tens of thousands of Hanoi’s residents poured into the streets to witness the visit of the first American head of state since the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton toured the thousand-year-old Temple of Literature, grabbed lunch at a noodle shop, argued with Communist Party leaders about American imperialism and sifted the earth for the remains of a missing airman.

On Saturday, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, conceded that the president had not come into direct contact with ordinary Vietnamese, but said that they connected anyway.

“If you’d been part of the president’s motorcade as we’ve shuttled back and forth,” he said, reporters would have seen that “the president has been doing a lot of waving and getting a lot of waving and smiles.”

He continued: “I think he’s gotten a real sense of the warmth of the Vietnamese people and their willingness to put a very difficult period for both the United States and Vietnam behind them.”

Perhaps, but the Vietnamese have barely seen or heard from Mr. Bush. He spoke at his first stop, Singapore, promising that “America will remain engaged in Asia.” But the response was tepid — the invited audience somehow missed several of built-in applause lines — and one senior Singaporean diplomat, declining to be quoted by name, said there was little in the speech “that his father didn’t say to us 15 years ago.”

Others questioned whether the United States was so fixated on the Middle East that China had been given free rein to spread its influence.

Here in Vietnam, what has been missing, at least so far, are the kinds of emotional moments of reconciliation that marked Mr. Clinton’s visit. Mr. Clinton took the two sons of the missing airman, Lt. Col Lawrence G. Evert, to a rice paddy in Tien Chau, a tiny town 17 miles northeast of Hanoi. There, they searched for remnants of the colonel’s F-150D Thunderchief, which crashed during a bombing run in 1967. Scores of nearby villagers joined in the effort, and the soil gave up the airman’s bones.

I want all the Vietnam Vets, especially those still on active duty, to think hard about this, very hard.

This mission, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, is a tremendous consession to the US by the Vietnamese. They have missing far exceeding that, yet they consented to help us find the dead and put to rest the rumors of MIA's.

Bush showed exactly how much of a shit he gave about your sacrifice. Fifteen fucking minutes. We've all taken shits longer than that. Yet, he shows so little concern, that he basically reduced it to a coffee break.

I could give a fuck if he connected with the Vietnamese. He owed the dead more respect than that, more concern than that. It was even offensively disrespectful to the Vietnamese, who are spending time and money to help us, while not looking for their own dead.

This the real face of Bush and the chickenhawks. When confronted with real suffering and sacrifice, who can forget Cheney's attire at Auschwitz, they act as if they cannot, should not be, bothered.

In a just world, the WH would be flooded with calls and e-mails about this.

posted by Steve @ 1:29:00 AM

1:29:00 AM

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