What do you suppose Prime Minister Maliki's soothsayers are making of those inscrutable photos on the wall at the State Department?
Younger folks out there are probably too young to remember what it was like trying to figure out what the heck was going on inside the People's Republic of China when it was closed to us, and mostly a giant mystery to us. That was, of course, back before America's No. 1 red-baiter, Richard M. Nixon, pulled his great switcheroo and "opened" "Red China" to us. (It was a lot easier for him to do than it would have been for any other American president, since President Nixon didn't have to worry about having that damned demagogue Dick Nixon smear him as a Commie-loving traitor.)
In those days, much of what passed for "information" on this side of the Bamboo Curtain about what was going on in the PRC came from Hong Kong-based soothsayers' scrutiny of billboards, trying to glean morsels of meaning from the soupiest soupcons of poster prattle -- as to who was up and who was down (or uppish or downish) in the Communist Party hierarchy, for example.
These days the world must be in a similar position with regard to us, now that we have a government whose every official utterance has to be presumed to be a lie. Luckily, we have a contemporary version of the old Hong Kong billboard soothsayers in our pal Al Kamen, who notes in today's Washington Post, surveying current D.C. gallery offerings:
[T]he State Department has updated its excellent Bush Diplomatic Hall of Glory exhibit, which hails the 43rd president's achievements in statecraft and features mostly family-album travel shots of Bush overseas with various leaders. The new exhibit features photos of Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert -- whose poll numbers are even lower than Bush's.
Gone, finally, from the exhibit is that photo of Bush with former Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, a complete loser who was kicked out in 2006. But we were disappointed that there is still no picture of Nouri al-Maliki, who replaced him. Bush has praised Maliki as "a good guy, a good man with a difficult job."
On the other hand, maybe the omission is intentional, especially given the recent demands of Maliki and his ministers for a "timetable" for withdrawal of U.S. troops from their country.
Bush has adamantly rejected calls for timetables, saying that all they do is "embolden the enemy" and that they would allow al-Qaeda to take over the country or would leave it vulnerable to invasion from its neighbors. Like maybe Jordan or Kuwait.
If you're Prime Minister Maliki, don't you have to wonder?