For basically the entire duration of the post-Iraq Bush presidency, the United States has been pilloried in the town square of global opinion. Ever since Iraq started to go sideways, countries that were formerly our bosom buddies (Great Britain) or affectatiously unimpressed allies (France) joined in with countries who hold every-hour-on-the-hour “Death to America” rallies (easy to find the time when everyone is unemployed, Iran) and fired broadside after broadside at the U.S.S. Best Damn Country There Is. I’m not saying our leadership doesn’t deserve a lot of the scorn, and I’m not saying that a good portion of the criticism is spurious or baseless. But the fact of the matter is this: Feith, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, O’Beirne, Bremmer, and others botched Iraq. And once they did, America-bashing became the global politics equivalent of Radiohead – everybody’s into it, even if they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.
Today, if you’re having a conversation about who is raping and pillaging the Third World, you’re not talking about narco-terrorists who victimize their native countrysides (and who get caught, by the way), you’re bagging on America. If you’re talking about who is de-stabilizing the international system, you’re not talking about nihilists who are beheading journalists, you’re talking about America. If you’re talking about who is spewing all the carbon into the atmosphere, you’re giving the EU a pass on its farcical carbon trading scheme and blaming big, bad, anti-Kyoto America.
“I’m sorry my voice sounds muffled, but if I remove my mask, the air pollution will burn my lungs like dry twigs in a campfire.”
Again, America is by no means the innocent babe in the woods. Nevertheless, at some point, people have got to wake up to the fact that a bunch of other countries suck worse. In other words, America might plunder its natural environment to mine coal, but if David Gregory did a news story on it, Bush wouldn’t have him gunned down. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, however, would. (To be fair, Cheney would try to make it happen). So honoring the great American tradition of shifting blame, I’d like to take some of the heat off my beloved country by pointing out a spectacularly shitty thing that happened in China this week.
“So many choices!” you say. I could point out, for example, that the entire country is basically a Superfund site. Or that China supports the egregious regimes of, among others, the genocidal Sudanese government as well as Burma. Or the enthusiastic way the government embraces eminent domain over there, harassing and even beating villagers who have the nerve to protest the seizing of their farmland for industrial use.
I’m going to let those slide for now, in favor of this bucket of rainbows: 27 snow leopard pelts were recently seized from a black marketeer’s apartment in western China. Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s what we’re talking about:
Twenty-seven snow leopard pelts, plus 104 bear skins and parts of clouded leopards and lynx. “But, the guy was arrested,” you might be saying to yourself. “Doesn’t this just prove that the Chinese government is tough on this kind of wildlife abuse?” Not so much. There are isolated successes…the World Wildlife Federation in China points out that tough enforcement in Tibet has appreciably diminished the threat of poaching there (but that’s Tibet, not quite China); in fact, the real problem in Tibet is “reprisal killings,” or farmers killing endangered cats because they get at their livestock. However, elsewhere, China is a main engine in the worldwide poaching machine. The country’s demand for exotic, endangered species – for use by fancy restaurants, native medicine, virility treatments, etc – is eating through the Burmese forests alone like a buzzsaw. Armed gangs, eager to make big money selling tiger skins, are killing my favorite land animal goddammit and selling them in markets that feed the Yunnan province, or elsewhere. China is the biggest market in the world for tiger bone (the primary component in “tiger bone wine”), leopard parts, and rhino horn. A 2006 survey by the China Wildlife Conservation Association (CWCA) and WildAid found 42 percent of the restaurants and 60 percent of the wholesale markets polled in 16 Chinese cities — but especially those in southern Guangdong province — served dishes featuring the meat of wild animals. Most Siberian tigers are killed for export to China. All this despite the fact that China signed the CITES treaty – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora – in 1981.
Everybody getting this? These are some of the most endangered, the most majestic, the most awesome animals that live on Earth. Anywhere. These are the animals that have been a part of earliest man’s spiritual life. Even though I’m an inveterate tree-hugger, I try not to sound like one most of the time, so forgive me this lapse: These animals deserve to be here. To hell with any economic benefits they might bring via ecotourism, or any other “practical” reason a well-meaning biologist might advance. They have an evolutionary lineage far longer than ours, they have an inherent dignity, and that’s all that matters. They deserve to exist, and furthermore they ought to exist. They should not, under any circumstances, be killed so their bones can be ground up in a “tonic” because some putz over in China can’t get an erection.
So the next time some “blame America first” so-and-so starts in on how the Bush administration subverts the Endangered Species Act, tell them this: that might be so, but when American men want to treat our erectile dysfunction, dammit, we do it with a little blue pill that’s sold on a really creepy commercial, the way God in His or perhaps Her wisdom intended. We sure as hell don’t kill one of Earth’s last good things.