Them Hate as Long as They Fear by Paul Krugman NYTimes 3/7/2003
Why does our president condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach
to our friends and allies this administration is fostering, including
among its most senior officials? Has 'oderint
dum metuant' really become our motto?" So reads the
letter of John Brady Kiesling, a career diplomat who recently left
the Foreign Service in protest against Bush administration policy.
"Oderint dum metuant"
translates, roughly, as "let them hate as long as they fear."
It was a favorite saying of the emperor Caligula, and may seem over the
top as a description of current U.S. policy. But this week's crisis in
U.S.-Mexican relations — a crisis that has been almost ignored north
of the border — suggests that it is a perfect description of George
Bush's attitude toward the world.
Mexico is an enormously important ally, not just because of our common
border, but also because of its special role as a showcase for American
ideals. For a century and a half Mexico has — often with good reason
— seen its powerful neighbor as an exploiter, if not an outright
enemy. Since the first Bush administration, however, the United States
has made great efforts to treat Mexico as a partner, and Mexico's recent
track record of economic stability and democracy is, and should be, a
source of pride on both sides of the border.
But Mexico's seat on the U.N. Security Council gives it a vote on the
question of Iraq — and the threats the Bush administration has made
to get that vote are quickly destroying any semblance of good will.
Last week The Economist quoted an American diplomat who warned that if
Mexico didn't vote for a U.S. resolution it could "stir up feelings"
against Mexicans in the United States. He compared the situation to that
of Japanese-Americans who were interned after 1941, and wondered whether
Mexico "wants to stir the fires of jingoism during a war."
Incredible stuff, but easy to dismiss as long as the diplomat was unidentified.
Then came President Bush's Monday interview with Copley News Service.
He alluded to the possibility of reprisals if Mexico didn't vote America's
way, saying, "I don't expect there to be significant retribution
from the government" — emphasizing the word "government."
He then went on to suggest that there might, however, be a reaction from
other quarters, citing "an interesting phenomena taking place here
in America about the French . . . a backlash against the French, not stirred
up by anybody except the people."
And Mr. Bush then said that if Mexico or other countries oppose the United
States, "there will be a certain sense of discipline."
These remarks went virtually unreported by the ever-protective U.S. media,
but they created a political firestorm in Mexico. The White House has
been frantically backpedaling, claiming that when Mr. Bush talked of "discipline"
he wasn't making a threat. But in the context of the rest of the interview,
it's clear that he was.
Moreover, Mr. Bush was disingenuous when he described the backlash against
the French as "not stirred up by anybody except the people."
On the same day that the report of his interview appeared, The Financial
Times carried the headline, "Hastert Orchestrates Tirade Against
the French." That's Dennis Hastert, the speaker of the House of Representatives.
In fact, anti-French feeling has been carefully fomented by Republican
officials, Rupert Murdoch's media empire and other administration allies.
Can you blame Mexicans for interpreting Mr. Bush's remarks as a threat
to do the same to them?
So oderint dum metuant it
is. I could talk about the foolishness of such blatant bullying —
or about the incredible risks, in a multiethnic, multiracial society,
of even hinting that one might encourage a backlash against Hispanics.
And yes, I mean Hispanics, not Mexicans: once feelings are running high,
do you really think people will politely ask a brown-skinned guy with
an accent whether he is a citizen or, if not, which country he comes from?
But my most intense reaction to this story isn't anger over the administration's
stupidity and irresponsibility, or even dismay over the casual destruction
of hard-won friendships. No, when I read an interview in which the U.S.
president sounds for all the world like a B-movie villain — "You
have relatives in Texas, yes?" — what I feel, above all, is