Sunday, September 24, 2006

Venezuelan Airport Blues

It’s Sunday and I’m depressed.

Why am I depressed?

If you’ve got five minutes I’ll tell you why I’m depressed.

I’m an academic mathematician working at a university in the UK. I work in a medium sized department with a nice common room. Many of us regularly eat a sandwich lunch together in said common room.

For the past four years I’ve done something else as well. I’ve consistently defended the USA (and Israel) from a lot of criticism from my colleagues.

If you want to know my position: I’m in favour of the Western civilization we’ve got (or had 30 years ago) and want to preserve it rather than trade it in for a newer, but clunkier and bloodier version. I believe that America (the US of) is the largest repository of the values of said Western civilization and is generally a GOOD THING.

Now this defence thing started off fairly badly. My colleagues were fairly convinced that whilst 9/11 was a terrible thing maybe America had deserved it and Israel certainly persecuted those poor Palestinians. In particular, America was too high-handed and an international law unto itself and the Arabs and Muslims and Palestinians were simply demonstrating a natural post-colonial backlash and who wouldn’t (lash back) against such an un-nuanced and gauche oppressor. You know the sort of thing (only halve it because these are mathematicians and they know about truth in their professional lives, even though they forget to apply the same standards outside it).

I’ve put up with a lot of flak but have been tolerated and politely heard (and that’s saying something, because I can be quite inflammatory – or so my spouse tells me).

Anyway, over the past six months I’ve noticed a change. To be blunt, I’ve felt that the tide has turned. The latest move forward has been after the charming response to the Pope’s lecture [no need for links, you know what I mean]. I sat at lunch and listened to my colleagues fulminate. I admit I brought the subject up, but I didn’t have to say another word. Everyone was condemning the response, no-one was blaming US oppression (or the Pope) and I sat back and thought `Hallelujah!’

That was on Friday.

Then on Sunday morning I spot this story:

Venezuela has made a formal complaint to the US authorities and the United Nations after its foreign minister was detained at a New York airport.

The US state department has apologised to Nicolas Maduro who was detained for 90 minutes at New York's JFK airport as he travelled home.

He had been attending this week's UN General Assembly meeting.

He said he was verbally abused and strip-searched in what he said was a "flagrant breach of international law".”

I immediately turned to Little Green Footballs to get some realistic reporting and read this:

Chavez Foreign Minister Gets "Secondary Screening"

“Just a little wake-up call from Satan to Hugo: Chavez: U.S. detained foreign minister. (Hat tip: LGF readers.)”

So I followed that up and read:

The airline identified him for secondary screening,"


Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said in Washington.

Airlines check passengers names against watch lists and apply certain criteria — such as paying for a ticket with cash — to direct passengers to a more intensive, or "secondary," screening process.

"From secondary screening the department was able to confirm his identity as the foreign minister for Venezuela," Knocke said.

And thought “Oh dear!”

Actually I didn’t, but I can’t tell you what I really thought. No, I can’t. No, it’s not printable.

I’m going to get hell on Monday.

Some of Charles Johnson’s commenters won’t understand my problem. People like Ted, for example, who says

I hope he was given a full cavity search...”,

or Murqtaad, who says

And we let him go because.....?

Because he's a diplomat, of course. Can't go arresting thugs if they have a "D" on their plates.

IMO, Chavez and Mahmoud shoulda been held. F world opinion. Someone has to do the right thing.

or Superdave TWC, who says:

Oh my Goodness! They detained a foreign anti-American thug?

Why was he detained for only an hour?

Why is he not in G'itmo?

Why am I going to get hell on Monday? The very short answer is `because Maduro is Venezuela’s foreign minister!’

More detail (I wouldn’t need to explain this to my British colleagues-they’d all take it as read) – you show respect to the office even if there’s a dribbling thug currently occupying it. From my reading it seems that any worthwhile American instinctively understands this when it comes to, for example POTUS but not, perhaps for the elected officials of other democracies.

Now you may be getting ready to argue here. After all we’re talking about a minor South American country run by a thug (no argument there, Superdave WTC) and, on reading this version of events, it looks as though it might even be a setup, but that’s not the point.

There’s no way he should have been allowed to go to the airport without somebody letting airport security know who he was. There’s no way he should have been detained and (if he was) there’s no way he should have been strip-searched.

Now people like Ted and Murqtaad not only do not regret this event, but wish that more indignities had been heaped upon him and I sympathise with how they feel. But such expressions of irritation and anger should be made in private and Ted, in case it escaped your notice, you’re not. In case you forgot, www stands for World-wide web. Note the first word.

In public the USA should not behave like the adolescent who has accidentally locked an objectionable guest in the lavatory and when told to apologise, whispers - sorry!

The USA has suffered insult to their President by the President of Venezuela and it must be very tempting to respond in kind . However, notice first that we’re talking Venezuela here and second that we’re talking the USA.

There’s long been an isolationist trend in the US and events like these tend to set it off. Well, now is not the time in my opinion. There’s a family of the Anglosphere and you’re the head of the family, not some snivelling junior member who can go sulk in his room until everyone’s forgotten.

Chavez was unbelievably rude in the UN – that's indisputably true. But Chavez made an idiot of himself-now you want to reap the benefit.

In these circumstances, nothing impresses your friends (and even bystanders) more than to respond to rudeness with politeness. That urbane politeness that is maintained by a host in the face of extreme provocation by a guest. Nothing, in my humble opinion, is better calculated to inspire the rest of the family. Eschew the bluster, avoid the insult, show the grace that flows from supreme self-confidence coupled with good manners. Do this, and you not only impress the Anglosphere, you might even persuade some Venezuelans that the embarrassment is all theirs and they should ditch the public face of that embarrassment in short order. If not, no matter. Your friends and allies will notice and it will stiffen their resolve.

I’m not talking appeasement here. I’m not suggesting kowtowing to your enemies, I’m talking about the normal civilities between nations which should only stop on the declaration of war (and sometimes not even then – it’s always best to have some channel of communication, even with a rat).

Well, my colleagues will certainly take this attitude and they will be stunned and disgusted that the USA apparently hasn’t.

And that’s why I’m going to have a really bad time tomorrow.

I wonder if I should call in sick?


Anonymous said...

Come now, it is Tuesday evening and we have no report from the lunch bag comments!
Has the British culture changed so much or the threat grown so great that they cheered the Venezualan ambassador's embarrassment?

Yes, I am an American, just interested in your side of the pond.

Canker said...

This is a damn good question.
I'm feeling a little silly but, here we are on Wednesday and it looks like everybody missed it. It was significantly under-reported here.

I'm breathing a sigh of relief and hoping that nobody's waiting to bring it up at a critical moment (which is quite possible with my colleagues).

I should add that there is no way they would cheer the Venezuelan foreign minister's discomfiture (yet).

Anonymous said...

Murqtaad here.

Quick question, do you remember how Chavez incited riots and the chasing of our diplomat in Caracas? Rocks and bricks were thrown at his car.

I guess America is just held to a standard that no other country is held to. I mean, the nerve we have to hold a thug at an airport for a whole hour!

Canker said...

Not quite, Murqtaad. I believe that the UK and Australia are held to the same standards (although less is expected of them in the way of other "correct" actions). My point, however, still applies.

There's no gain from deliberately mistreating a minister of a foreign country and to do it inadvertently smacks of incompetence. I did attempt to explain why I feel that to be true.

The simplest way to put it is that it's the world's bully boys who behave like that. China, Russia, North Korea and Venezuela, to name but a few.