Vienna, July 2 ~
U.S. President Barack Obama’s plane, headed home after his visit to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania, was forced to land in Austria today when French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese officials refused to let Air Force One land and refuel as needed for its transAtlantic flight. Once the plane touched down, it was boarded and searched by Austrian officials before being permitted to refuel and continue on its way.
It is widely accepted that the forced grounding and search were orchestrated by the Bolivian government, which is said to have received a tip that its ex-president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada was aboard the flight. Sánchez de Lozada, as it turned out, was not aboard Air Force One.
Sánchez de Lozada--a U.S.-backed ruler who faces charges at home for ordering the indiscriminate killing of dozens of peaceful protestors in cold blood--has been living in asylum in the U.S. since he was driven from office in 2003. The U.S.’s willingness to harbor an alleged mass murderer for the past decade is no surprise, given that he received advice in his 2002 campaign from Democratic strategists James Carville, Stan Greenberg, and Bob Shrum, and was known, during his tenure as president, as "Washington's most stalwart ally in South America."
The Obama administration just last year refused Bolivia’s request for Sánchez de Lozada to be extradited so that he might stand trial for genocide.
U.S. officials reacted with fury to the downing, boarding, and search of Air Force One. President Obama, who still appeared somewhat shaken when he arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, adopted the high moral tone he normally employs in public, describing the incident as “shocking,” “intolerable,” “personally offensive to me as the leader of a free and sovereign nation,” “an insult to the people of our great country,” and “an unacceptable violation of standards of common decency as well as international law.”
“Is this how they treat one of their sister-countries in the Americas?” Mr. Obama asked rhetorically. “We try to be ‘good neighbors’ to our friends in the South, but such criminal behavior makes a nation a pariah in the global community.”
Secretary of State John Kerry condemned “the cowardly behavior of those countries who bowed to Sucre’s will in carrying out this outrage.” The U.S. has demanded a formal apology from Bolivia and from each of the nations complicit in forcing Air Force One down.
Following instructions from the president, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel immediately put U.S. forces in the region on “High Alert,” and ordered a list of bombing targets be drawn up for the cities of Santa Cruz, El Alto, La Paz, and Cochabamba.
Major newspapers and TV networks in the U.S. have taken up the drumbeat for a military response, calling the incident “incendiary” and “an act of aggression tantamount to an act of war.”
The average person on the street echoed such sentiments. “Can you believe they’d do something so high-handed?“ asked Stephie Barone, a receptionist with an international mining firm headquartered in Colorado. “The lack of respect for other nations? Talk about a double standard! How would they feel if the shoe were on the other foot?”
“Bolivians think they can get away with anything,” said Don Bling, an over-the-road truck driver from Chicago. “The normal rules don’t apply to them. They’re a rogue state. It’s time they looked at their behavior through other people’s eyes for a change.”
“I don’t blame ordinary Bolivians,” said Angela D’Alessandro, a beautician in the Bronx. “They live in a media bubble. All they know is Bolivia. As far as they’re aware, the rest of the world barely exists.”
© Tony Russell, 2013