Incurious George in Vietnam: He's No Bill Clinton
David Sanger lets the snark fly in Hanoi while marking Bush's post-election trip to Communist Vietnam on Sunday.
While the rest of the press played up liberal-minded comparisons between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War and brought up old and unsubstantiated claims about Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service, Sanger finds a different anti-Bush angle, one he's used before - the president's evidently disturbing lack of curiosity about the world.
Sanger harkens back to the Vietnam visit of another president rather more liked by the media. "Unlike Clinton, Bush Sees Hanoi in Bit of a Hurry" reads the online headline, which even comes with a huge photo of Clinton in Vietnam in 2000, one of Laura Bush - and none of President Bush himself.
"President Bush likes speed golf and speed tourism - this is the man who did the treasures of Red Square in less than 20 minutes - but here in the lake-studded capital of a nation desperately eager to connect with America, he set a record.
"On Saturday, Mr. Bush emerged from his hotel for only one nonofficial event, a 15-minute visit to the Joint P.O.W./M.I.A. Accounting Command, which searches for the remains of the 1,800 Americans still listed as missing in the Vietnam War.
"There were almost no Vietnamese present, just a series of tables displaying photographs of the group's painstaking work, and helmets, shoes and replicas of bones recovered by the 425 members of the command. He asked a few questions and then sped off in his motorcade."
That's a familiar theme with Sanger, who wrote about a trip Bush made to the region in 2003, in which the White House responded to security concerns: "Thus Mr. Bush, not an ever-curious tourist, will see less than usual....Past presidents have taken in the restaurants of Sydney or the wonders of the country. Not Mr. Bush: He cut the trip down to a visit to Canberra, a capital that is a bit like Ottawa but not quite as vibrant. He will be there for just 21 hours, on his way to a day of fundraising in Honolulu, perhaps the only time he will make it to Hawaii between now and the election."
On Sunday, Sanger writes: "But the mood of this trip could not have been more different from the visit of another president, Bill Clinton, exactly six years ago this weekend, when he seemed to be everywhere.
"And while the difference says much about the personalities of two presidents who both famously avoided serving in the war here, it reveals a lot about how significantly times have changed - and perhaps why America's 'public diplomacy' seems unable to shift into gear.
"In 2000, tens of thousands of Hanoi's residents poured into the streets to witness the visit of the first American head of state since the end of the Vietnam War. Mr. Clinton toured the thousand-year-old Temple of Literature, grabbed lunch at a noodle shop, argued with Communist Party leaders about American imperialism and sifted the earth for the remains of a missing airman....the Vietnamese have barely seen or heard from Mr. Bush. He spoke at his first stop, Singapore, promising that 'America will remain engaged in Asia.' But the response was tepid - the invited audience somehow missed several of built-in applause lines - and one senior Singaporean diplomat, declining to be quoted by name, said there was little in the speech 'that his father didn't say to us 15 years ago.'
Sanger clearly misses Clinton's touchy-feely, symbolic style of leadership: "Here in Vietnam, what has been missing, at least so far, are the kinds of emotional moments of reconciliation that marked Mr. Clinton's visit. Mr. Clinton took the two sons of the missing airman, Lt. Col Lawrence G. Evert, to a rice paddy in Tien Chau, a tiny town 17 miles northeast of Hanoi. There, they searched for remnants of the colonel's F-150D Thunderchief, which crashed during a bombing run in 1967. Scores of nearby villagers joined in the effort, and the soil gave up the airman's bones.
"Dissidents throughout the country say they have been harassed, detained and, in one case, beaten up by authorities to keep them from meeting with foreign journalists or engaging in any protests while the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting convenes.
The home and cellular phones of many prominent dissidents have been disconnected. Some activists have been locked inside their homes. Throughout the city, barricades have been erected at the homes of many dissidents, typically with four or five police officers standing guard. Signs around the homes warn visitors: 'Restricted Access,'' 'No Foreigners' and 'No Pictures.'"
Kesler reacts: "David Sanger may want to on a future trip to Vietnam to visit more than a Pho restaurant or Hanoi victory museums."