FOG Problems

George Bush is losing some of his best global buddies. Junichiro Koizumi stepped down last month as the Japanese prime minister, just in time to leave North Korea’s nuclear test in the hands of his successor, Shinzo Abe. Tony Blair will be shortly handing over the reins of the British government to Gordon Browne. And then there are all the friends in Congress that the U.S. president may lose as a result of the upcoming mid-term elections.

For global and domestic reasons, the FOG (Friends of George) might dissipate over the next two years and let in a little sunshine.

Hitoshi Tanaka was in Washington last week to discuss the future of Japan under its new prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Tanaka was the architect of Koizumi’s 2002 trip to Pyongyang, which required a full year of secret meetings. The former deputy foreign minister implicitly chided the Bush administration for its exclusively confrontational approach to North Korea and put forward Abe as a strong candidate to negotiate a comprehensive breakthrough in the current nuclear crisis.

Will Abe follow Koizumi’s path of visiting both Graceland (cementing personal bonds with the U.S. president) and the Yasukuni shrine (ensuring his support from Japanese nationalists)? Tanaka didn’t think a Yasukuni shrine visit was in the cards. As for the new Japanese prime minister’s place in the FOG set, Abe pointedly visited China and Korea before making the pilgrimage to Washington.

Dynamic Duo Divided

Tony Blair’s five-year tenure on the world stage as Robin to President Bush’s Batman is about to end. At the same time, as FPIF analyst Dan Smith writes in “Breaking Up That Old Gang of Mine,” British support for staying the course in Iraq is disintegrating. Top British military official General Sir Richard Dannatt criticized the course of the occupation and called for withdrawal, “to date the only active duty senior officer in either the UK or the United States to have come close to an explicit call for removing foreign troops,” writes Smith.

The Iraq War solidified the transatlantic relationship. Its failures may well produce fissures. “When Brown replaces Blair, the intensity of UK enthusiasm for staying on in Iraq will diminish,” Smith writes. “With casualties mounting, with the generals beginning at last to criticize the war and the effects of combat, Brown will find himself under enormous pressure to set a timetable, declare an exit strategy, and bring the UK troops home.”

Criticism of the Iraq occupation is coming in from all over. FPIF contributor Adil Shamoo published an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun over the weekend on the U.S. responsibility for the current carnage and sectarian violence in Iraq. “The invasion and its aftermath caused such a major trauma to the people of Iraq that now some have become self-destructive,” Shamoo writes. “Iraq is crying for help. Iraq is in need of compassion and understanding soon, before it slides into Dante’s inferno.”

In the music world, meanwhile, the new Barbara Koppel documentary about the Dixie Chicks and their antiwar stance—Shut Up and Sing—is about to go into national distribution. And when Kronos Quartet played at George Washington University the other night, the first violinist introduced an Iraqi folk song with a concise denunciation of U.S. policy. The title of the song, which dates from the 1980s, was “Oh Mother, The Handsome Man Tortures Me.”

Also at FPIF

Hugo Chavez is certainly no FOG. As FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan points out in “Hunting Hugo,” though, the Bush administration’s disagreements with Chavez have less to do with the overblown rhetoric that comes out of Caracas (and more recently the UN headquarters), than with Venezuela’s oil policy. “What really worries the United States is that Chavez is trying to diversify Venezuela’s clientele,” Hallinan writes. “Venezuela is currently building a $335 million pipeline across Colombia in order to ship more oil to China and is working on plans for a $20 billion natural gas pipeline across the Amazon to markets in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina.”

Also at FPIF, Stephen Zunes follows up on the continuing saga of Afghanistan’s descent into chaos by evaluating the military campaign that dislodged the Taliban five years ago. And Sameer Dossani sends a “Postcard from Singapore” about the demonstrations—or lack thereof—around the World Bank/IMF meetings.