Bush's 'evil' little twin

12-22-05, 8:53 am

George W. Bush must have scowled when Cuba's Fidel Castro referred recently to his brother, the Florida governor, as the president's 'fat little brother.' But he got over it. There were other, more important fish to fry, among them hiding that he had another, skinnier brother halfway across the world whose antics were becoming a nuisance. Who would have guessed Bush was any relation to the man, whose loud calls for Israel's government to be 'wiped off the map' were an embarrassment to a family dynasty keen on keeping one of the United States' strongest political lobbies happy? Still, the president wasted no time distancing himself, lining up with other world leaders like so many ducks in a row to denounce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Up to his beady eyes with his own problems, Bush was in no mood to admit any connection to the Iranian president, who'd also claimed the Holocaust amounted to a 'myth' (though his brazen words were, in fairness, a ploy to keep the unfairness of the so-called 'peace process' in the Middle East on the radar). Despite labeling Iran part of an 'axis of evil,' Bush found it practical to also include Ahmadinejad in the smear rather than reveal the Iranian leader was, in fact, none other than his own, apparently long-lost twin. He found a willing partner; both men viewed keeping the thing secret as a sure path to staying in power, so neither was prepared to blow his cover. Yet even without resorting to, say, DNA testing, the similarities couldn't be more striking. For one thing, religious fervor figures prominently in both men's worldviews. There is also each man's insistence on the need for regime change in one country or another -- with Bush, so far, having had more luck in carrying out such an experiment in Iraq while his twin has had to limit himself, in the case of Israel, to wishful thinking. The difference is explained by the fact that, while Ahmadinejad leads a nation whose resolve to go its own way has turned it, unfairly, into a pariah state, his other half reaps the benefits of presiding over a Goliath, whose adept ability to seem cuddly and loveable on the international scene has risen to the level of an exact science. The dancing act was convincing, but detractors remain. 'You have to hand it to America,' the British playwright, Harold Pinter, said recently during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for literature. 'It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.' Rare words to reach the masses in this country. Still, the Bush-Ahmadinejad family connection seemed to have been lost on Pinter. It wasn't just the brothers' foreign policies, after all, that were so remarkably similar, but also their conviction that to run a country was to run it from the top, and with an iron grip. Yet, whereas Bush's efforts to whip the U.S. citizenry into submission have been marked by no small successes, his twin's attempts to follow the same path appear frustrated by the fact that, believe it or not, Iranian society has proved the more resilient by contrast. Take Ahmadinejad's recent outright ban of Western music on state-run radio and television. He spoke, the people listened, but then they went on listening to whatever tunes they pleased. Bush, on the other hand, after being elected by almost, though not quite half, of U.S. voters because of his religious leanings -- this in a country still mostly proud of its separation of church and state -- saw it as moot to fill Americans in on the fact that he had authorized the National Security Agency to spy on them for the past four years. Why point out what most Americans seemed to have accepted anyway? It was a time of war, Bush was in charge, and that was that. A quick glance would suggest the twins' dovetailing ruling styles reflect the similarities between the leaders' societies at large. Iranian news organizations that cross the limit in criticizing the ruling clique are often shut down, yet the effect is no different in this country, where diversity of opinion is hamstrung by the fact that so few hands control the media. A closer inspection, though, reveals Americans might have something to gain from observing Iranians' brand of democracy, a concept whose meaning in the United States becomes less clear with each passing year. Iranians, after all, watch as many of their leaders get locked up ahead of elections, but they react -- pouring into the streets in the thousands, and with enough attitude to make Americans who'd protested the Vietnam War envious. And they do it knowing the risks: jail time, loss of livelihood, at times even death. American leaders by comparison generate lukewarm, if any, opposition to anything coming out of the Bush administration, including the USA Patriot Act -- a policy reeking of everything unpatriotic and un-American -- while most Americans either go along willingly and call it patriotism, or beware not to raise their voices above a whisper when they do lament the erosion of their freedom-loving values. Is it that too many Americans have become lax about what being American means? Could it be that as more Americans' material needs are met, the more they forget what freedom means? If pressed, any American would concede what most people around the world know by heart -- that true freedom is never free. Nor is it imported or exported by governments. Supply and demand may very well work for business but freedom comes, simply, from demanding it. In the end, wherever they are in the world, it is up to ordinary folks to steer their destinies. By relying too much on their leaders for guidance they give up their freedom, which in turn invites problems that, inevitably, are kept all in the family.