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04/25/2003 Archived Entry: "The Great Syrian Bluff"

When the US threw its new-found and ponderous weight around the Arab world by threatening Syria, it accomplished several things. The waters of empire were tested. Syria was cowed into semi-compliance. Iran was implicitly warned not to rouse the Iraqi Shiites. Another fall-out was that no one knows if the US would have invaded Syria or whether the political drama was all bluff and bluster. No one knows how seriously to take future threats against "erring" nations. For example, how heavily should people weigh the angry rhetoric now directed at North Korea?

Colin Powell has returned a day early from the much-touted three-way talks between North Korea, China and the United States, with a warning to Pyongyang that Washington would not respond to threats. At the talks, North Korea's lead official told the U.S. that his country had nuclear weapons, which could be tested, exported, sold...depending on U.S. actions. (South Korea claims Pyongyang's stance is a bluff, bringing to mind Mark Fiore's hilarious cartoon "Loser Dictators.") In response, Bush is accusing N.Korea -- one of the original members of the Axis of Evil -- of nuclear blackmail but Bush maintains that he wants a diplomatic solution, especially since China is key to US foreign policy in the area and must be "on board." But even before the talks began, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested that regime change, not negotiations, was the best course. It is difficult to get stirred up about the shouting matches that substitute for diplomacy these days when so much seems to be a game of global bluff, with the US leadership arguing as much with itself and with hostile nations. It becomes difficult to care. Amazing that politicians can make even the prospect of nuclear war boring.

Reprecussions from WHO placing Toronto on a health blacklist roll on. The Globe and Mail reports, "Across Canada and indeed the globe yesterday, Torontonians were blackballed, blacklisted and forced to adjust to the infamy of living in one of the SARS capitals of the world. Health officials stationed outside Alcan Inc.'s annual meeting in Montreal screened shareholders from Toronto. British Airways told pilots and flight crews to stay out of Toronto hotels and sleep in Montreal instead. Major Canadian companies told people from Toronto and other regions hit by SARS to stay away from head office. Toronto businesses scrambled to cope with a flood of cancelled events. Even schoolchildren were turned back at the U.S. border." It is odd to see the hysteria up-close and personal. It is not merely that Brad and I live within commuting distance to Toronto, it is also that he is involved in emergency co-ordination within our county and SARS has been a subject of briefings, discussion, etc. There is no reason to panic, as I detailed in yesterday's blog. WHO refuses to lift the ban because, as a Canadian health official explained, "This is politics now. And they'll never go back no matter how wrong they are, and they know they're wrong." Toronto businesses are already reacting to the slump that the SARS panic is causing. With tourist season coming, it would be economic disaster for WHO to stand by its unsupported and insupportable claims about SARS on the Canadian streets. But it will. Because, god forbid, WHO should acknowledge a mistake. What would people think of future health warnings, if it did?

Oh well...this should be a quiet day on the farm. Not yet warm enough to work my garden or do much other than prune the bushes and trees that have overgrown their bounds during the late fall and the early growth this last month. As the farm comes alive, I'll write more about the process.

Best to all,

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