By Steven and Cokie Roberts
“The rule book of international relations has been torn up,” British Prime Minister Tony Blair said last week. “Nations, even ones as large and powerful as the USA, are affected profoundly by world events, and not affected over time or at the margins, but at breakneck speed and fundamentally.”
Blair was talking about many forces that cross boundaries at “breakneck speed,” from people and pollution to disease and dollars. But the day before Blair spoke, he stood next to George Bush at the White House, while the president focused on two other globally traded commodities that are damaging his presidency: images and ideas.
For the first time, Bush talked frankly about the mistakes he’s made in Iraq, and he demonstrated how slowly he’s come to understand the worldwide media universe in which he’s forced to operate.
In that universe, technological innovations mean that even “large and powerful” nations cannot control what ordinary people hear and learn. The rulebook has been “torn up” because everybody can now see how the game is played. Slogans and spin cannot erase reality.
Start with Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison where inmates were tortured by their American captors. Bush described those excesses as the biggest mistake of the war: “We’ve been paying for that for a long period of time.”