July 27, 2006

Spasms In Rome


Condi-Arab-Meet2  Condi-Arab-Meet3

Yesterday in Rome, Condi stymied a whole contingent of Arab and European countries, arguing against almost any notion of a cease fire in Lebanon.  At the press briefing following the meeting, she took an emotional pummeling for it from an impassioned Lebanese Prime Minister, Fuad Siniora.

Keenly focused on facial expression, the visual media honed in on the resultant, and highly accentuated signs of strain.  In the top image, look at Condi’s neck muscles.  Bottom left, check out the cheek, nose and neck.  Bottom right, look at the forehead.  Stressful, yes.  But considering Rice’s extraordinary rigidity and self-control, to what, specifically, can we attribute this straining?

From what I saw of the briefing — and considering the defiant, “pre-recorded” and yet tremulous tone of her voice –  this looks like the emotional cost of the refusal to empathize.  In times of great harm, diplomats are required to extend to one another at least some degree of humanity.  If Rice is chafing, it’s because she rejects going there.

Listening closely to her response to Siniora, she made an interesting Freudian slip.  It was telling, I felt, in regards to empathy. Following the Lebanese leader’s anguished appeal, Condi attempted to simultaneously validate and patronize Siniora, stating how these wars reflect: “too many spasms of violence followed by more spasms of violence.”  The way the phrase came out, however, Condi said the word “fathered” instead of “followed” — at which point she paused, then corrected herself.

Others may speculate on the personal relevance.  I am focused on the political dynamics, though.  “Violence followed by violence” conveys the cynical, resigned (and far-right) notion that aggression and retribution is nothing we can help, it’s just matter of fact.  Violence that is “fathered,” on the other hand, implies an intimate origination, and a birthing process that is not only individual and uniquely motivated, but something we are all “a kin” to.

Personally, if I was watching two members of my extended family knocking the living crap out of each other — even if I was highly partial to one — and more reasonable members, bearing that pain in my presence, appealed to me — being the biggest and the strongest — to respond, I’m sure I’d be chafing too (quite possibly, in the form of spasms in my own neck and jaw) if all I had to offer them was pretense.

It’s hard to be human when you have mostly ice water in your veins.

(edited/slightly revised: 8:36 am PST)

(image 1: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP.  July 26, 2006.  Rome.  Via YahooNews.  image 2: Sandro Pace/A.P. July 26, 2006.  Rome.  Via YahooNews.  image 3: Riccardo De Luca/A.P. July 26, 2006.  Rome.  Via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
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