Hey APEC Leaders: Don’t wear hats!

Paul Bograd

Posted on November 20, 2006

Well I have been away from AsianPundit for some few weeks now. No excuses, just a backload of professional work (As in work that I get paid for.), some travel, a terrific reunion with my first political client and his wife on a cruise in Vietnam and a slight touch of malaise about the state of public political interaction here in Asia.

But as they say in the movie Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. He’s Back!

I wasn’t sure what to write about but the group photo in costume from this past weekend’s APEC meeting was just too good to pass up.

As an advisor to political candidates there is an unwritten rule that transcends cultures, ideologies and geography: Politicians should never, ever, ever wear hats under any circumstance! The history of failed electoral campaigns is littered with “headwear-related” campaign faux pas.

Now the ceremonial wearing of costumes is bad enough. As if the constituencies of these leaders are not skeptical enough about the millions and millions of dollars expended on conferences that produce very little tangible results; and, one third of the world’s population is subjected to quarterly group photos of its political leadership dressed up as some kind of inter-cultural bowling team.

But the APEC meeting did produce some other equally underwhelming results:

On the matter of North Korea the cumulative political will of leaders of nations representing more than 50% of the world’s GDP, and most of the world’s military power could not even produce written comment. The conference declaration did not mention North Korea’s nuclear weapons program at all. It was left to the host nation’s president Nguyen Minh Triet, to offer a verbal aside asking for North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons.

I mean come on leaders. I know that consensus on free trade is tough. Global warming is controversial. Even whaling has its advocates.But North Korea… Nuclear Weapons… Crazy Kim Jong-il; if you can’t have a clear and definitive position on that one, that is worthy of being part of the formal record of your meeting, well you all owe your taxpayers a refund.

There were a number of other remarkably offensive moments; many courtesy of my president, George W. Bush.

One particularly offensive moment, largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, were his comments in response to questions about what lessons for the current Iraq crisis could be learned from America’s experience during the Vietnam war. His response (in paraphrase) was that, “We Can Only Lose if We Don’t Stay the Course”. As if America’s failure in its Vietnam experience was “not staying the course long enough.” As if America’s failure in its Vietnam experience was not the 58,000 American dead and 153,000 wounded, the millions of Vietnamese dead and wounded including well over 1,000,000 civilian deaths, the 5,000 South Korean dead and 543 Australian dead. This doesn’t even mention the waste of American treasure and the psychic damage to generations of Americans and Vietnamese. Thank goodness America didn’t stay the course any longer than it did.

Get real President Bush. Just because you avoided serving in Vietnam during your military days you should still get your history correct.

And George W. gave us another underwhelming moment: During a pre-conference meeting with leaders of the ASEAN states he proceeded to lecture the members on fighting terrorism and how the “Bush” doctrine of honest, credible “Democratization and elections” is the key to success. Perhaps if he did a bit of homework he might have noticed that of the ASEAN nations, the only nations who’s elected leaders are free of legitimacy challenges are the two Muslim nations of Malaysia and Indonesia. It helps to know whom you are talking to President Bush.

But all in all it was a good APEC conference for wise-guy commentary and a good reason for me to restart contributing to AsianPundit after a long absence. Happy to be back.

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