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Three Top Leaders Visit Bush, Come Away With Nothing

by Jim Lobe

But big donors to last year's election made out like bandits

(IPS) WASHINGTON -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has sent 20,000 troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, got warm words, a press conference, and dinner.

South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun, who has sent 3,000 troops to Iraq, got nice words, a photo-op, and lunch.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who just reached an agreement that will enable Washington to use Incirlik air base for its Iraq operations indefinitely, got coffee.

And each of them -- democratically elected leaders of long-time military allies who have been battered by public opinion at home for defending a close relationship with Washington -- got virtually nothing they really wanted during their respective meetings at the White House this week with President George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, U.S. industries that provided lavish campaign contributions to Bush and Republican candidates in last year's election made out like bandits without even having to show up at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, at least not personally.

The tobacco industry, which spent 75 percent of its nearly four million dollars in campaign contributions last year on Bush and the Republicans, got a really big present this week when the Justice Department reduced its request for damages in a racketeering trial that the government had already won from $130 billion to $10 billion to finance a national anti-smoking campaign over the next 25 years.

That's a likely savings of $120 billion. Billion, not million.

Top Justice Department politicos even asked that its own witnesses soft-peddle their testimony so as not to move the judge to impose the larger fine anyway.

The much-larger fossil-fuel industry, which spent 80 percent of its $25 million in campaign contributions on Bush and Republicans last year and has profited handsomely already from the policies pursued by Bush since he came to office, also seems to have benefited in a somewhat unexpected way, it was also revealed this week.

It turns out that the chief of staff for the White House environmental office, who was also the oil industry's chief lobbyist against placing limits on the emission of greenhouse gases has been assiduously editing government climate reports "in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming," according to the New York Times.

The official, Philip Cooney, formerly of the American Petroleum Institute (API), has no scientific training and hence no competence to alter the work of government scientists, but that apparently did not stop him. Thus, the "attribution of the causes of biological and ecological changes to climate change or variability" became not just "difficult" but "extremely difficult."

It was no wonder then that, when asked during a press conference early in the week with Blair, who has been pressing Bush since 2001 to take more aggressive action on emissions, about whether he believed emissions caused global warming, the president replied that his government was still spending a lot of money -- more than anyone else, after all -- studying the problem. Cooney has resigned.

What united the three leaders who visited Bush this week, apart from their countries' more-than-50-year alliance with the United States, was the fact that their electorates have all become thoroughly disillusioned with the U.S. president, particularly with respect to his foreign policy -- especially in Iraq.

Thus, traveling to Washington essentially as supplicants with specific requests without their being agreed in advance carries with it serious political risks.

Indeed, Washington's credibility and favorability ratings, as measured by a series of public opinion polls, have fallen as or more sharply since Bush became president in the visitors' three countries as in any other country outside the Arab world. Given the strategic importance of Britain, South Korea, and Turkey, that fact alone should have made Bush, who has tried hard in his second term to reassure allies about his willingness to listen, unusually eager not only to listen, but to please.

But he didn't.

While Bush certainly did not humiliate the visitors, as he did four years ago with Roh's predecessor, Kim Dae Jung, or commit any major gaffes, at least publicly, he also gave virtually no ground on any major substantive issue, with the arguable exception of Blair's appeal for an agreement with Britain on how the multilateral debt of the world's poorest nations could be canceled.

Blair had wanted some new words, some new commitment on curbing global warming and on tripling aid to Africa -- the two themes he promized to make priorities when Britain become chairman of the Group of Eight (G-8). He got nothing on both counts, although the White House announced it had reprogramd about half a billion dollars in undisbursed aid for humanitarian relief in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Roh had hoped that Bush would indicate either a willingness to put more incentives on the table to lure North Korea back into the Six-Party Talks or greater flexibility engaging in bilateral talks with Pyongyang. Bush, who at least referred to the North Korean leader as "Mr." -- rather than as a "tyrant" or some other derogatory term as has been his wont -- declined.

Erdogan had wanted Bush to commit U.S. forces to begin cracking down hard on Iraqi-based guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which last year ended its unilateral cease-fire and began mounting attacks in Turkey that so far have killed hundreds of Turkish troops and police. Bush, who declined to even host him for lunch, apparently as punishment for the Turkish parliament's refusal to let Washington use its territory to invade Iraq from the north in 2003, not only rejected the request, but insisted that Turkey co-operate much more in isolating Syria and Iran.

Adding insult to injury, it fell to Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist, a staunch White House ally, to then demand on the Senate floor for the visiting prime minister to "speak clearly in defense of our partnership and to dispel a wave of anti-Americanism in Turkey that runs counter to the last five decades of co-operation."

"Nothing is so fatal to a nation as an extreme of self-partiality, and the total want of consideration of what others will naturally hope or fear," wrote Edmund Burke, the 18th century British conservative.

Perhaps a campaign contribution would help overcome the problem.

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Albion Monitor June 15, 2005 (

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