April 13, 2008

Primer on Social Studies in the Bush Administration

President Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley appeared on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos and repeatedly confused Nepal and Tibet.

Discussing how Bush has "no reason not to go" to this summer's Olympic games in Beijing and how boycotting them would be wrong, Hadley discussed the outcry over Tibet and the US response, only he kept saying Nepal.

"If countries are really concerned about Nepal, we shouldn't have this sort of non-issue of opening ceremonies or not. They should do the hard work of quiet diplomacy to urge the Chinese government -- in their interest -- to take advantage of this opportunity to do something," Hadley said.

Well, who am I to criticize? There have been times in my life (it's been years, I confess) when I wasn't sure about the difference between Tibet and Nepal. I knew they were somewhere in the Himalayas; when friends went trekking in the high mountains, they talked about going to Nepal, not Tibet. That was a clue. Nepal was in some sense more accessible than Tibet. Over time I realized this was because China overran Tibet a long time ago. Which is why Bob Seger, if he ever got out of here, was going to Kathmandu. He had no interest in going to Red China. The ancient Nepalese monarchy, that was the place for him.

It was probably in the 1970's, during the spirituality boom in the U.S., that I grokked the connection between Tibet and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai was a Tibetan, and the capital of Tibet was Lhasa, not Kathmandu. This is why the Dalai is the head man of "Tibetan Buddhism" (that's a good mnemonic device for Hadley -- not the head of "Nepalese Buddhism"). If he ever gets out of here, Bob Seger is not going to Lhasa. Lhasa is an "autonomous region" of the People's Republic of China, but I think you can guess just how autonomous it is (even if Stephen Hadley can't). The Dalai, for instance, can't even live there. He lives in India (but some of his best friends are Tibetans). Nepal (for Mr. Hadley's ease of reference) shares a border with Tibet but is not actually Tibet. There's a question, however, how much longer Nepal is going to remain a monarchy, because good King Gyanendra is currently under siege by Nepalese Maoists, who want to take over. "Mao" was Chinese, and Mr. Hadley may see a pattern here.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Stephen Hadley served as one of George W. Bush's "senior foreign policy advisors." This may explain why Bush had a problem naming the capital of France, for example. Not to get too personal, but Hadley looks as if he lives in a crypt most of the time and only comes out to appear on talk shows and display his mastery of Himalayan geography. It does seem amazing that Hadley, aware that a big whoop currently in the news is whether George W. will or will not attend the opening ceremonies of the Smog Games in Beijing, would not have checked Wikipedia or something to figure out the difference between Nepal and Tibet. He's the national security advisor. As I freely admitted a minute ago, I acquired my flawless command over high-elevation South Asian principalities over the course of several decades, but then again, my job wasn't really about that.

It's possible, you know, that these people in the Bush Administration are just really, really stupid. If you think the question is whether the Chinese government is oppressing the Dalai Lama in Nepal, then maybe that's a clue to other puzzling decisions the Bush team has made. On September 11, 2001, the U.S. gets attacked by 15 Saudis, a Yemeni, an Egyptian, a Lebanese, a guy from the UAE, all coordinated by a Saudi living in Afghanistan along with his Man Friday from Egypt and the Brain from Kuwait. Bush, consulting Hadley, wants to find out who attacked us. "Arabs," says Stephen. So we attack the Arabs in Arabia. It's beginning to make sense. That's what Bush meant when he said that it was intolerable to have Saddam as a troublemaker in the "same part of the world" where the 9/11 hijackers were from. ArabLand, he meant.

If I ever get out of here, I'm going to Kathmandu.

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