Normally I try to keep this blog as peurile as possible as I suspect the few people who read it don't really care about my opinions on politics, etc, but I went along to cover Dubya's speech in Budapest yesterday and a few things struck me.
The first was that his comparison of the 1956 revolution and Hungary's eventual transition to democracy with the situation in Iraq didn't stand up. The US left Hungary to its own devices in 1956, allowing the Soviets to roll in and crush the revolution without lifting a finger. Bush held Hungary up as an example for Iraq, but Iraq's "revolution" came about after the US invaded. If Bush really wanted Iraq to follow Hungary's example, shouldn't he just have left them alone and allowed them to get rid of the dictator themselves? The whole event smacked of an excuse to justify Iraq and the soundbite speech was liberally peppered with the usual references to liberty, freedom and God.
Secondly, I can't help but feel Bush is as much a victim of the climate of fear the US stokes up around terrorism as the ordinary punter. The security around the event was as tight as a gnat's chuff - although I have to admit the US secret service guys were very friendly and professional, unlike some of the jobsworth Hungarian police. I missed the first event after a local copper refused to let me cross the chain bridge - even with all my valid accreditation - and forced me to take a 40-minute detour. It was no surprise that the secret service (I'll refrain from shortening it to SS, as that would be unfair) wouldn't let me in because I was late. Bush probably can't take a dump without someone having to shine a torch up his cavity to check for suicide bombers. I don't think I would want to live that way. And even with all the security, there were glitches: most noteably two old drunks swigging from a bottle in an area of the Gellert Hill that was allegedly secured.
It was interesting how jumpy the crowd was, though. At one point, as Bush was speaking at the top of the hill, a plane flew overhead through the clouds. The engines were very loud, and a lot of Hungarian dignitaries (and journalists such as myself) glanced up, half-expecting to see a plane dive-bombing straight at the podium.
Some of the bowing and scraping from Hungarian politicians was pretty impressive as well. One prominent MSZP figure grabbed Bush's hand with two of his own and almost bent double as he greeted him. He looked like a leper thanking Jesus for curing him.
All in all, Bush had a bit of an easy ride the whole day. The next time he wants a nice PR opportunity with no grief, I'm sure he will know where to come.