Notes from a splendid London New Year

I had the pleasure of bringing in 2007 in London, where I had the chance to catch up with some dear friends - and engage in some interesting political debate with the usual transatlantic biases.

The main issue concerned perceptions of the words right and left. In a discussion of the Iraq War, I argued that "bringing democracy to Iraq" was a leftist adventure on the part of George W. Bush. This view, however, was soundly rejected by my porteño and porteña pals, who considered it a territorial entreprise and therefore rightist. One of them, an accomplished journalist who often writes for La Nación and appears on Argentine TV, countered that state intervention only in internal affairs characterized leftist, to which I responded that America's ability to significantly affect developments in other nations means that exercising this capacity also reflects a leftist disposition.

I cited Bush's second inaugural address, the "Freedom speech", in which he (and by "he", I of course mean his neocon speechwriters) stated:
"The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world...America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way."
To me, that is ultra-left. To my Europeanized Latin American colleagues, it's far right. Interesting stuff.

Along with those friends, I joined a Romanian colleague for lunch the previous day - at which we reflected on the execution of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It was a throwback to April of 2003, when the very same group of us watched the fall of Baghdad live on CNN from Stockholm, Sweden. I will never forget the reaction of my Romanian friend on that day nearly 4 years ago to the assertion of Donald Rumsfeld that:
"The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain...Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed, brutal dictators..."
No doubt recalling her own personal experience as part of the student movement in Bucharest, she yelled back at the TV that "it was we the Romanian people that overthrew Ceausescu - we didn't need American tanks rolling through Bucharest to do it for us!"

Comparing the Hussein execution with that of Ceausescu, she seemed regretful that the former Romanian leader was tried in "half an hour" and shot along with his wife on Christmas Day in 1989, the footage of which was shown on Romanian national TV. As controversial as Hussein's trial might have been, it was clearly a lot more fair than the one afforded Ceausescu.