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          Ping pong, anyone? First it was the story of Pipelineistan and Nabucco, which bounced merrily into the whole Georgian fracas, which pinged attention to the a resurgent Russia and all of that, and now its ponged back to Nabucco, with the Hungarian Ambassador in charge of Nabucco dashing off to Turkey to do what he can to get his Nabucco co-conspirators to speed things up. They’re understandably anxious, since Nabucco depends at this point on the Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan line, which transverses Georgia. Should the Russians get antsy again, they could disrupt the flow, and then Europe would once again have its gas controlled by Russia. Fine, you say, but when did Hungary get into the act?

          The primary recipients of Nabucco gas haven’t been definitively enumerated yet, but at this point Hungary, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Germany and Turkey each hold a little over 16% each of the stake in the project, and Budapest is to host the January 09 EU-Nabucco summit (Here’s a sidebar for you: “Nabucco” also happens to be an opera by Giuseppe Verdi, which examines the plight of the Jews who were exiled by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Anyone for odd parallels?). So the Hungarians and Turks are hurling spin and hype in a mad attempt to forestall all the talk that because of mercurial Russia, Nabucco (the pipeline, not the opera) is now effectively sidelined, and meanwhile the hype and rhetoric about the sideshow which Georgian politics has become burbles and boils fascinatingly.

          Letters to the editor of this and that papers, posts on diplomacy-oriented chat rooms  and Eastern European journalists excoriate the US as the aggressor in that melee, asserting that the US armed Georgia specifically so that it could slaughter Ossetians. According to the angry Russophone contingent, the US Naval ship McFaul, which brought humanitarian supplies to the Georgian port Batumi is a “war ship”, and that proves American intent. I’m no flag-waver for the current White House, but, ummm…really. I just can’t fathom The Shrub looking that far ahead to create such a cunning and infamous plot as to arm the Georgians then rile ‘em up just to be able to send in a Trojan War Ship through the Dardanelles. Cheney; maybe. The Shrub; nah. But still.

          I’m pretty sure that the Bush administration is up to no good, but on this, I’ll have to admit that the evidence is in their favor. The US Navy has launched a “soft power” offensive, since most of the military action these days is on the ground and not on the water, and they have a few ships with not much to do, staffed by bored sailors. They send “war ships” like the amphibious assault ship Kearsarge, recently deployed to South America armed with doctors and dentists galore to charm poor people with free medical care. Both civilian and military medicos jot around dispensing doctoring, delivering humanitarian aid and public goodness. The Navy seems to have taken a page from Fidel Castro’s book, and its about time if you ask me, which no one has. And they use “war ships” because that’s what they have. Who ever heard of a Navy with a yacht? The USS McFaul is a guided missile destroyer, but it came from Crete, where it had made a “routine port call” on 11 Aug according to, so it was on hand to load up with milk, blankets and what not to convince the Georgians that the Americans were doing something for them, even though they weren’t, really. At least not anything that matters. Sure, Washington called off the nuclear cooperation agreement which would allow Russia to sell more of its technology, but who cares? Because of Byzantine stipulations within both the treaty and American politics, the agreement could be on track again as soon as a new president takes to the Oval Office. Of course the “routine port of call” could be a ploy, too. Probably in collusion with Elvis. But what do I know?

          Anyway, when you get right down to it and consider how governments choose to deploy their international diplomacy or missiles, no one, including the insiders really knows why one event or another came to pass. Certainly no government that I’m aware of truly has the best interest of its citizens or malevolence toward other parties at heart.  Governments are made up of people who seek power. Those few people who genuinely seek the betterment of all over their own advancement get kicked out of or at least marginalized early in their political careers. So to say that the White House orchestrated the Georgia debacle or that Moscow did is to give those organizations too much credit.

          On the bright side, now we have Kim Jong Il to watch. That’s always fun! Even though he’s known to be shy about speaking in public, the Dear Leader of North Korea is usually fond of a parade, so it was a surprise when he failed to show up for the country’s 60th anniversary.  In fact neither hide nor frizzled hair has been seen of him since mid-August. Rumor control reports that he had a stroke, though North Korean spokespersons remain tight-lipped on the matter. One diplomat was reported to have called the speculation a “nefarious defamation” which could realistically be taken as an affirmation if you believed that the North Korean junta was actually working in concert on shared information, but that isn’t particularly probable. It’s not the first time that there’s been speculation that Mr. Kim was ill (and not just Il), and according to Toshimitsu Shigemura, a Japanese University professor, North Korea’s Dear Leader became their Dear Departed in 2003 and was replaced by a look-alike. Despite the fact that Westerners tend to believe that all Koreans look alike, it seems hard to imagine that anyone could come  up with a 5’2”, Cosmo Kramer-haired, waddling look-alike with particular ease. Even so, it’s a thought. And this just in from the Conspiracy Theory Department: That capricious Mr. Kim might just be deliberately stirring up speculations in order to get his negotiating partners in nuclear issues to worry about what would happen should he indeed die.  Its true that Kim alternated whimsically between belligerent baiting and bland bartering in his negotiations, but if you step back and look at his behavior from the long view, he’s been unexpectedly consistent.  Who’s to say what sort of nut-job will replace him?

          It could be his second son, who is in charge of propaganda for the Korean Worker’s Party, or the third, who’s only known for his obsession with Eric Clapton. My vote goes to the eldest, who snuck out of the country to go see Tokyo Disneyland and then sloped off to Macau on a gambling junket. He’d be the most fun, and lord knows, North Korea could use a little color.


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