We will begin this fifth and final installment of the Davos Journal–for the first four parts, please go here, here, here, and here–with Bill Gates. Somewhat charmingly, he bills himself not only as Microsoft’s Chairman, but as its Chief Software Architect. Gotta keep a hand in, you know–maintain pride in one’s work, and gift.
Longtime Gates-watchers say that the Chairman is either on or off–he’s either wired, funny, bright, expansive, or sort of short and peevish. On this particular night, he’s on–very. PBS’s Charlie Rose leads him in a series of questions before an appreciative and rapt group. Gates looks amazingly boyish, and the hair’s not as bad as people–chiefly comedians–say. In fact, he’s sort of handsome, in a computer-brain way. His voice cracks frequently, giving the impression that it belongs to someone in puberty. He may be on the nerdy side, but hey: He’s the richest man in the world, and you’re not.
And, if I may, there’s a reason he’s the richest man in the world, or at least very, very rich: It’s not a matter of luck; the man is phenomenally smart and bold. He has a thousand interesting things to say, such as that the PC of today stinks. Yes, stinks. You can’t talk to it, you can’t do umpteen other things with it–and by decade’s end, it’ll be a lot better (although you know that, come then, Gates will say the PC still stinks).
Once upon a time, the Microsoft slogan was, “A PC on every desk and in every home.” The slogan was so fanciful that sometimes the company omitted the latter part–the suggestion that there would be a PC in every home. It was simply too much. Microsoft had to drop the entire slogan when it got to be a “Yeah, so, what else is new?”
Sick of spam? Dumb question, I realize. According to the Chairman, spam will be history–done, beaten, not a problem–in two years. From his mouth to You-Know-Who’s ear.
Charlie Rose asks him about Linux, this upstart (bold, Gatesian) endeavor. Here, Bill Gates is at his funniest. He says (and I paraphrase), “When a company gains .1 percent of market share, I call in my teams and say, ‘You fools! You idiots! How could you let this happen? If this keeps up, we’ll be ruined!’” Gates is cocky, yes–and not without reason–but he seems to have a healthy respect for those in whom he sees aspects of himself.
When he talks about his philanthropic endeavors, he’s just a little squishy–talking about “giving money back to society.” I want to tell him: “You didn’t take it from society to begin with, baby. It didn’t exist there. You made it, earned it, benefiting all of humanity in the process.”
He does say something incredibly non-squishy, however. Sort of thrilling. Asked about anti-Americanism in Europe, he notes that the atmosphere in Davos is markedly different this year–less hostile, less toxic. Because, basically, we went in (to Iraq), we did it quickly, we’re following through, and no one is saying, “You know, let’s put Saddam Hussein back in power, so he can resume killing and torturing people.”
Beautiful. Just beautiful.
‐I’ve already mentioned Pervez Musharraf quite a bit in this Journal, but I must mention him some more: He is the man of the hour, perhaps an indispensable leader–the one head of state in a Muslim country who seems willing to attack the extremism and extremists who are the cause of so many woes. He arrived in Davos fresh from two attempts on his life. As I’ve already noted, he refers to assassins as “occupational hazards.”
The Muslim world will make it into modern life, he says, but the U.S. has to help. How? By “healing” outstanding problems, such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Iraq, and Kashmir. Oh, is that all? Couldn’t we throw in the common cold while we’re at it?
At a press conference, Musharraf is asked repeatedly about relations with India. Are those relations getting better? Yes. Is there hope for a settlement? Yes. Will Pakistan disarm itself of nukes? “If you can promise a nuclear-free South Asia, I will disarm, but not before.” Musharraf says that some countries have militaries and arsenals for “deterrence,” while others have them for “power projection.” Pakistan belongs to the former camp, he insists: This is strictly a matter of self-defense.
What the assembled journalists are most concerned about is the safety of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal, particularly if Musharraf doesn’t survive one of these assassination attempts. What will happen if these nukes fall into the hands of extremists?
Musharraf insists over and over–testily–that the arsenal is in safe hands, and will be, come what may. There are “security rings” around it, and a secretariat is in firm control. “We have left no stone unturned in assuring the security of all assets.” The president explains that the British put in a system that is tight and complete: If a coat or rifle goes missing, it is found by the next morning. And how much more concern is there about nukes?
Musharraf also insists that Pakistan’s nukes are safer than those of the ex-Soviet Union–why doesn’t the world concentrate on those (is the implication)?
Then there is the question of whether the government–whether Musharraf–is in control of the ISI, the Pakistani intelligence service. The president will brook no doubt on this point: The ISI is “manned mainly by senior military officers,” and “they operate under the manual of military law, which is very tough. They do exactly what the government tells them to do. They’re not doing anything that is not what I want; and if they do anything wrong, I am responsible. There is no government-within-a-government. This is not a banana republic. The ISI is an extremely disciplined organization, under the control of the government.”
As for the Pakistani people themselves, they do not make up an “extremist population”–women don’t cover themselves, they participate freely in life, etc. Musharraf seems incredulous that people could possibly believe that Pakistan could go extremist–go fundamentalist–given how moderate the population is.
But, if I may argue with him, that’s not the point: Iran certainly wasn’t extremist when the mullahs seized power. In the spring of 1917, the Bolshevik party numbered 10,000 people; by November, they were in power. What matters, then, is the willingness of a clique to terrorize.
As we sometimes make language points in this column, let me say that Musharraf’s is worth noting–his language, that is. It is impeccable, and extremely British. At one point, he refers to “these Qaeda chaps.”
Back to weightier matters: An Indian reporter states that no Indian PM could survive, politically, if he ceded any of Kashmir. Musharraf rejoins, “And no Pakistani leader could survive . . .” Nevertheless, says the president, a deal can be made on Kashmir. What is necessary is that both parties move out of “stated positions” and be “flexible.” Musharraf says that Pakistan has accepted “the reality of Kashmir,” and that he, personally, is doing everything possible to rein in extremists.
As for al Qaeda, it is on the run–and there are more Qaeda, says Musharraf, on the Afghan side of the border than on his side (contrary to what the Afghan government puts out). “Al Qaeda is not an organized body, with good command and control; they cannot communicate with one another; they are not a strategic threat”–although they can cause disruption, killing people here and there.
Musharraf seems to be saying that the Islamic world needs freedom–freedom and democracy. He doesn’t put it that way, exactly, but that’s how it comes out. It doesn’t matter, he says, how many leaves you destroy–how many you pluck. It doesn’t even matter if you succeed in lopping off whole branches. What matters is that you seize the thing by the roots. But when he speaks of root causes, he doesn’t seem to be blaming the West. He says, in so many words, that the winds of freedom need to blow through the Islamic world, so that the people may raise themselves up and get with modern life.
Why, Musharraf is in Davos in large part to talk to companies about investing in Pakistan! If Nissan, for example, opens a plant in his country, “they will find it very profitable”!
After this session, a couple of journos remark that Musharraf may be the one indispensable leader–the one guy we can’t do without–in the entire world. I’m afraid it may be true. Musharraf means a lot to Pakistan, which means a lot to whether freedom-loving peoples get a handle on the terrorism problem.
And, you know, journalists aren’t supposed to talk about their conversations with cabbies, because it’s way, way too cliched. But permit me to share this. On my way to Kennedy airport, days ago, I was talking on my cellphone. I told a few people where I was going, what I was doing, who would be there. When I hung up, the driver, who couldn’t help overhearing, said, “You’re a journalist?” Yes. “You’re going to Switzerland?” Yes. “You’re going to see Musharraf?” Yes.
“I am Pakistani,” he says. “Please thank him for me. Thank him for all he is doing to stand up to the fundamentalists, and tell him we are all praying for him.”
In fact, I am unable to convey this to the president–but I get the feeling he knows it.
‐Dick Cheney delivers a big address on Saturday morning. He is introduced by Klaus Schwab, the founder and guiding presence of the World Economic Forum, and, while Schwab is talking, the vice president has a precious look on his face. Dr. Schwab doesn’t get quite everything right. For example, he notes that this is only the second trip that Cheney has taken abroad, while vice president–you see, he’s very much needed in Washington, as he is president of the Senate. Well, sure, but . . .
Anyway, Cheney delivers what is quite simply a perfect speech. Perfect–and that’s not an adjective to throw around loosely, every critic knows.
Listen to this:
“Our forward strategy for freedom commits us to support those who work and sacrifice for reform across the greater Middle East. We call upon our democratic friends and allies everywhere, and in Europe in particular, to join us in this effort. Europeans know that their great experiment in building peace, unity, and prosperity cannot survive as a privileged enclave, surrounded on its outskirts by breeding grounds of hatred and fanaticism. The days of looking the other way while despotic regimes trample human rights, rob their nations’ wealth, and then excuse their failings by feeding their people a steady diet of anti-Western hatred are over. Nations fail their people if they compromise their values in the hope of achieving stability. Instead, we must seek a higher standard, one that will apply to our friends in the region no less than to our adversaries.”
And please read this, as I have a New York Times-related point to make:
“Our military actions have also been carried out with the help of many allies and partners on this continent and around the world. It is no surprise to President Bush and me that 21 of the 34 countries keeping peace with us in Iraq today are NATO allies and partners. Along with Great Britain, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the Netherlands have all made substantial contributions, with Poland taking command of a multinational division and Spain making a major troop commitment. Thirty-eight countries have forces in Afghanistan, 28 from the European continent, as well as others from the Middle East, East Asia, and North America. In Afghanistan, Germany has taken a leading role in providing forces and in expanding the role of NATO.”
Right about now, Maureen Dowd comes out with a column in which she says, “Can you believe President Bush is still pushing the cockamamie claim that we went to war in Iraq with a real coalition rather than a gaggle of poodles and lackeys?” It’s especially hard to read this after meeting the likes of Polish president Aleksandr Kwasniewski, and Latvian president Vaira Vike-Freiberga–this latter a gloriously freedom-loving woman whose family went through hell at the hands of the Communists, just as countless other families did.
Anyway, Cheney’s speech is superb. You may recall that, in an earlier installment, I spoke of Bill Clinton’s speech. Many people watched it on screens in lounges, as the main hall was full–and, after Clinton’s speech, those in the lounges applauded, just as they would have in the hall. After Cheney’s speech–no applause in the lounges. During the Q&A, a man asks him about prisoners in Guantanamo Bay–and then a man, in a lounge, applauds. It is that kind of audience.
I should mention, too, that Cheney receives much, much less applause than Khatami, the president of Iran.
And incidentally, I can’t help noticing something that I have remarked many times before: People are concerned about prisoners in Cuba, sure. But the prisoners they’re concerned about are those of the United States–not those of the Cuban dictatorship. This is a sorry commentary.
Materially speaking, prisoners of the United States have it better than ever. They are well clothed, well sheltered, and well fed. They gain weight under U.S. auspices. They receive medical attention. They’re issued fresh Korans, and they pray a million times a day. They have imams to minister to them–hell, some of them may even be spies, huzzah!
Some months ago, a group of prisoners was released from Guantanamo Bay, and, back in Afghanistan, one of them was asked about his captivity. How bad had it been? The man complained . . . about a lack of okra in his diet. Okra.
Back to Cheney’s Q&A: Someone brings up the Paul O’Neill book. Cheney says, “I guess the way you could look at that whole exercise is that I’m not the best personnel officer in the world.” It was Cheney who urged George W. Bush to appoint O’Neill Treasury secretary. Indeed, Bush “put me in charge of the search for the vice president,” and look how that turned out!
The Grand Mufti of Bosnia rises (not for the first time at this conference) and he thanks Cheney “for what you have done in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Please, Mr. Vice President, if you can convey to the American people that we will never forget that you came to Bosnia to help us survive as Muslims in the Balkan peninsula. We will never forget that. We didn’t have oil [in this, he is addressing the Davos audience], you didn’t have an interest to gain. You came to Bosnia-Herzegovina just to show your credibility and your sense of morality.”
Finally, Klaus Schwab has two questions for Cheney. First, what about the United Nations, and possible reform of it? The vice president replies that the U.N. was made for the world of 1945, and, 60 years on, the world looks somewhat different. Perhaps the U.N. needs to take that into account, in its structure. (Hint to France and Russia: Get lost.) Then Schwab asks Cheney about his controversial Christmas card. Yes, Christmas card. It included a quotation from Ben Franklin: “If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?” So, you’re an empire, huh? asks Schwab.
Cheney responds in the tradition of husbands everywhere: “First of all, that quote was selected by my wife.” He goes on to explain what Franklin meant, and to leave Davos, not a favorite–like Clinton or Peres–but respected. Just a little. Maybe.
‐I have gone on too long, and we should really wrap this Davos Journal up, but I’d like to say a quick word about an amazing European foreign minister: She is Ana Palacio of Spain, and she is not your average European official. Indeed, she sounds as though she could work for AEI.
She extols the role of the free market, she affirms the role of military force, and she is clear-headed about the role of the EU: It must be a freedom machine, or it will be no good. With terrorism, she has no truck whatsoever, no “root causes” nonsense or rationalizing. She says that what the Muslim world needs most is light: is freedom and the rule of law.
Against the Huntington thesis of a clash of civilizations, she cites Turkey. And, speaking of Turkey, what about the EU? When will the EU get moving in keeping its promise to Turkey, to let it in? That is what Palacio asks.
The problem of the Basques, she says, is nothing less than the problem of freedom: Half the population lives under threat of terror from the other half, and what kind of life is that?
I ask why her government joined the U.S. in Iraq. It couldn’t have been for popularity, because most Spaniards were staunchly opposed. It couldn’t have been for comfort within Europe–it certainly did not win Spain any points with the big EU powers. So, why?
Palacio explains it as a matter of “principles and values.” Borrowing a famous phrase, she says that her government has “a certain idea of Spain, and a certain idea of Europe.” Terrorism, she says, is the main challenge of the first part of the 21st century, and “we’re on the same wavelength” with the Americans in assessing and dealing with this threat.
Like Donald Rumsfeld, she wishes that people would be more careful when they say “Europe.” Europe is more than Paris, Brussels, and Berlin. Much more.
And anti-Americanism cannot–must not–be the glue of the European Union, because “you can’t build an identity on an unhealthy premise. The refounding of Europe [an interesting way to put it: the refounding of Europe] is a big challenge, and must be done soberly.”
‐Friends, the Journal could go for days more, but you’ve had enough, and so have I, sort of, and we will conclude. I will impose on you no grand finale, no Deep Thoughts, no synthetic statement. I’ll just say, thanks for joining me, and I’ll see you stateside, where Impromptus will continue, with Kerry, Clark, Edwards, Bush, and all the other boys who operate in our national playpen.