Michael Fay got caught in the wrong ballpark

June 26, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- It was near the end of the White House press briefing on Thursday, right after questions about Haiti, health care, and Boris Yeltsin, that reporters asked what was really on their minds.

"Michael Fay," a reporter began. "Now that I presume he's safely out of Singapore, is the U.S. saying anything on his reports that he was beaten and coerced into his confession?"

Michael Fay, 19, whacked on his bare butt four times with a cane for vandalizing cars in Singapore, has returned home to the safety of America, a nation with freedom, justice, mercy . . . and considerable vandalism.

Though many people said Fay would be crippled for life by his caning, he was smiling and walking normally when he landed in the United States.

"I feel great," he said, giving a thumbs-up to reporters, "but I'm not going to talk about anything else."

Not for free, anyway.

And his father, George, is now planning to sue the government of Singapore for every dollar it has.

"I do want to take a hell of a lot of money from Singapore's pockets," George Fay said, though he added that he didn't, personally, want to make any money.

As to Michael's making money by showing his butt on television or selling interviews or maybe coming out with a calendar, his father had no objection.

"If money is offered, I will remove myself from the equation and leave it up to him," his father said.

In Washington, reporters had assumed that once Michael Fay was safely back in Ohio, the United States would be free to take action against Singapore.

Singapore, though it is a highly developed country, is only 224 square miles in size (smaller than New York City) and should be no match for the armed forces of the United States.

Even a limited cruise missile attack would lay waste to much of the city-state and allow U.S. pride to be avenged.

So you can see why reporters were eager to find out what President Clinton was going to do.

After all, a bare U.S. butt had been whipped. And by foreigners.

Dee Dee Myers, the White House press secretary, called what happened to Fay an "ordeal" and said the White House was "glad" that he was now home.

But the reporters were not so easily dissuaded.

"And what about relations with Singapore, though?" one asked.

Surely if we were not going to level the country through arms, we could at least cripple its economy for enforcing its laws against Americans.

Fay's mother, father and American lawyer had earlier asked Americans to boycott Singaporean products (assuming we could figure out what they were.)

The White House was keeping cool, however. With situations still dicey in North Korea and Haiti, we did not want to telegraph our troop movements.

"We announced at the time that there would be some sort of changes [in Singapore-U.S. relations]," Myers said carefully. "But would refer you to the State Department for any more information on that."

As I write this, we are still waiting for the official State Department response, but we can only hope our anger will be adequately expressed.

Though you do have to wonder at just what we are angry about.

Several years ago, I interviewed a 26-year-old American named Keith G. Bauer in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

Bauer, who had grown up in Collinsville, Ill., was working in Saudi Arabia when he was arrested for drinking alcohol.

He was not drunk, but drinking booze is a crime in Saudi Arabia.

So Bauer was taken to Thouqba Prison and held in a cell until his trial, at which time he was found guilty and given 60 lashes on his back with a palm stem, which, I was told, is harder than bamboo.

This created no international incident. Such things happen all the time in Saudi Arabia.

I interviewed Bauer a few weeks after he was flogged.

"I was a basket case for a while," he admitted. "I was terrifically depressed. Finally, I got over it. I told myself not to over-dramatize it.

"I try not to be bitter. Hey, what can I say? This country is their

ballpark. You go to another guy's ballpark, you play by his rules."

Which makes so much sense, no wonder it is no longer our foreign policy.

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