Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What are George Bush's gift-givers trying to tell him?

Taipei Times - archives
Tuesday, Jun 20, 2006,Page 7

A braided leather whip, a sniper rifle, six jars of fertilizer and a copy of the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook were among the presents foreign leaders have given US President George W. Bush. They are clearly trying to tell him something.

The inventory of official gifts from 2004, published this week by the US State Department, reads like the wish list of the sort of paranoid survivalist who holes up in his log cabin to await Armageddon, having long ago severed all ties with the rest of the world.

The president received a startling array of weapons, including assorted daggers and a machete from Gabon. He got the braided whip with a wooden handle from the Hungarian prime minister. The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, a gift from the Sultan of Brunei, has some tips on how to use some of these implements in a tight spot.

The paperback also explains how to wrestle with an alligator, escape from a mountain lion and take a punch. But the small arsenal of guns presented by Jordan's King Abdullah, including a US$10,000 sniper rifle, would presumably render much of that advice unnecessary.

The king also gave Bush six jars of "various fertilizers" on a rotating wooden stand. It sounds like the sort of present likely to cause offence when coming from a mother-in-law or sibling. But according to the Jordanian embassy, the jars contained neither manure nor the sort of chemicals that can be turned into homemade bombs, but rather an array of fertile volcanic soils found around the country.

In each instance listed by the state department, the acceptance of the gift is justified by the phrase "non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US government". But acceptance clearly has its own embarrassments.

President Bush was reminded of his problems with language by a vocabulary-expanding game called "Forgotten English," from Brunei.

Meanwhile, it is hard to imagine no-nonsense US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld summoning much enthusiasm for the gold bracelet he got from the Egyptian minister of defense, or the aromatherapy gift set from those cheeky Jordanians. There will, however, be no calming scents wafting around the Pentagon in the near future as the gift was passed on to the general services administration, a government department that disposes of unwanted presents.

If the top members of the administration met to compare gifts at the end of the year Rumsfeld would no doubt have been looking enviously over the president's shoulder at some of his weapons, or at the special presentation edition of The Art of War US Vice President Dick Cheney got from the Chinese vice-president.

But Cheney also received presents clearly intended to enhance his gentler, fun-loving side: a "Happy Day" clock from the Swiss president, gold silk pillows, scented candles and a pottery incense burner (the Jordanians again).

It is apparent that a lot of the foreign dignitaries do not do much research before buying gifts. Bush, a reformed drunk, was given a cellarful of wine over the course of 2004.

CIA agents seem to get a lot of presents, although the recipients (other than then director George Tenet) are not named. Nor are the donor governments, although it is usually easy enough to guess from the gifts, many of which are from the Middle East or Pakistan.

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