Madam Secretary fake politics mimics reality
Madam Secretary is one of those shows like The West Wing that mixes drama with real lifelike narratives. The narrative on tonight’s episode was rather striking. One wonders how many viewers understood many of the nuances within the dialogue.
The basic setup is as follows. An environmentally sensitive part of the Amazon jungle in Ecuador is at risk for development. An American oil company wants to exploit it. The head of the company complains to the Secretary of State that the SEC is on his back preventing his company from greasing the Ecuadorian wheels. At the same time the Chinese have the inside game because they are not restricted. The oilman wants the US to either provide additional assistance to Ecuador (corporate welfare) or get out of the way to allow them to presumably bribe their way into a deal.
At the same time the US government would prefer if the area was not developed as it is a carbon sync whose destruction would affect the climate. Environmental companies are willing to bribe Ecuador into protecting the area but are unable to come up with the billions.
The subsequent dialogue with the Ecuadorian ambassador is telling. The Secretary of State suggests to the Ecuadorian ambassador to proceed with a plan to turn the ‘selva’ into a reserve. The ambassador laughs at the suggestions knowing the priorities of the US Congress.
“Your current Congress would never allot such a large sum for rain forest conservation,” he replied. “Maybe coca eradication. But let’s ask our neighbors, the Colombians how that is working out for the environment.”
Those three sentences are pretty deep. Protecting the rain forest is existential not only for the US but for the world. Yet Congress would not invest in creating preserves but would fight eradication of coca in the same region with chemicals that cause deforestation and thus exacerbating deforestation for a drug habit not native to the region but to the United States.
The Secretary then acknowledged there are some trust issues (unmet promises). The ambassador responded, “We are still cleaning up oil spills the American companies caused in the 1970s.” These are issues widely known in Latin America that most Americans are oblivious to.
The Secretary of State then implored the ambassador, “But if I could get the money which I am working on right now, would your government consider preserving the entirety of the ‘selva’ region?”
The ambassador’s response was a classic. “If you could match the Chinese offer, perhaps. But you can’t. And certainly not within a plausible time frame. So with all due respect Madam Secretary, we stick with the Chinese.”
In that one statement the ambassador is saying much. He is acknowledging that Congress is recognized as a dysfunctional institution that cannot operate in a timely manner and that the Chinese get things done. While America concentrates on wars to keep the military industrial complex plush with war profits, China has been using its ‘peace dividend’ throughout Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. America will wake up one day and notice a real loyalty and influence vacuum.
The end of the snippet is most profound. The Secretary of State tells the ambassador about the Chinese, “They are not your friends you know.” His response was epic and one that every Latin American, Caribbean, and African country has learned over the years, “But then they don’t pretend to be.”