Kicking off his second four-year term, President
George W. Bush Thursday delivered an inaugural address filled with the righteous
resolve and soaring rhetoric that are music to his core constituency but will
almost certainly grate on the nerves of almost everybody else, both here and
speech, which was studded with religious references, was dominated by a
sense of certainty and even triumphalism about Washington's special mission
to spread "freedom" and "liberty" words he used more
than 40 times in an 1,800-word address throughout the world.
He even argued the country's very survival depended on exporting freedom abroad.
"We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion," he declared,
evoking the "mortal threat" posed by violence arising from "resentment
and tyranny." "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends
on the success of liberty in other lands."
"So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth
of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the
ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," he said, adding, "This
is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends
by force of arms when necessary."
While insisting that Washington's goal is "to help others find their own
voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way" rather than
to impose "its own style of government" Bush warned that his administration
will not be shy about pushing its agenda.
"America's influence is not unlimited, but fortunately for the oppressed,
America's influence is considerable, and we will use it confidently in freedom's
cause," he said, adding that "we will persistently clarify the choice
before every ruler and every nation: the moral choice between oppression, which
is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right."
Traditionally, the inaugural speech, which takes place outside the Capitol,
is used by presidents to set out their grand visions rather than their concrete
plans, which are normally the subject of State of the Union address that takes
place inside the Congress several days later.
Nonetheless, some analysts expressed surprise at the foreign-policy sweep of
Bush's vision, the almost total lack of specificity that it contained, and the
almost total certainty with which it was expressed.
"It very much reminds one of John Kennedy's inaugural address [in 1961]
about Americans being willing to 'bear any burden [in order to assure the survival
and the success of liberty]' and that's what got us into Vietnam,"
said Jonathan Clarke, an expert at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Particularly notable, several analysts noted, was Bush's failure to explicitly
cite the situation in Iraq, except when he noted that "our country has
accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable
"While there were indirect references to sacrifice," noted Lee Feinstein,
who heads foreign policy studies in the Washington office of the Council on
Foreign Relations (CFR), "his failure to mention Iraq explicitly speaks
to the administration's vulnerabilities."
Iraq represents a serious credibility problem for Bush's insistence that Washington
does not wish to impose democracy on other countries, according to Ivan Eland
of the California-based Independent Institute (II) and author of The
Emperor Has No Clothes, a realist critique of Bush's foreign policy.
"When he says freedom must be chosen," said Eland, "that's not
what happened in Iraq. The Iraqis had no choice, because it was the U.S. government
that decided to 'liberate' it. Now, they're faced with what could be a full-blown
civil war. Bush thinks it's going to work out, but most experts don't agree."
Indeed, according to recent polls, a growing majority of the public also lacks
confidence in Washington's mission in Iraq, and Bush offered nothing to reassure
them Thursday other than to remind them that, "Americans, of all people,
should never be surprised by the power of our ideals."
"This really falls on a very divided nation," said Marina Ottaway,
a democracy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP),
an influential think tank here.
"The speech was really tailored for hardcore Bush supporters, but for
those who have become very skeptical, including many people who voted for Bush,
the speech will be very difficult to follow. It declares the success of our
policies at a time when there are an increasingly large number of people who
see Iraq as a mistake."
Ottaway, who co-edited a new book on U.S. efforts to promote democracy in the
Middle East, Uncharted
Journey, also predicted that the speech is likely to be poorly received
abroad, particularly in the Arab world, for what will be seen as its hypocrisy
and double standards a point much echoed by other commentators.
"The rhetoric about the United States serving as a beacon for democracy
and human freedom doesn't jibe well with the resentment toward the U.S. that
is building around the globe and with the chaos that has ensued in Iraq following
the American invasion," agreed Charles Kupchan, a foreign-policy expert
at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"If someone were watching this on al-Jazeera or al-Arabiya [television
stations]," he added, "this speech would do more to incite cynicism
about U.S. motives than alleviate it."
Kupchan and Clarke stressed that the absence of details as to how his administration
intended to achieve its goal of eradicating tyranny and promoting freedom
and particularly when to use military force made the speech an unreliable
predictor of what Bush will do in his second term.
"If the United States opposes tyranny and supports freedom, who wouldn't
support that?" said Kupchan. "If, on the other hand, that agenda is
carried out through a series of military invasions, then Americans and everyone
else has reason to be quite worried about the second term."
John Gershman, director of Foreign Policy in Focus, a liberal-left think tank,
had an even more pessimistic take. He noted the contrast between Bush's speech
and that of former President Woodrow Wilson's second inaugural address, which
also extolled democratic government as a top U.S. foreign policy goal.
"But Wilson framed that mission in terms of a concern of the 'family of
nations,' decidedly not as a nationalist, unilateralist crusade of the kind
that Bush is putting forward," Gershman said, adding, "(a)ny doubts
that this second term will be marked by less Manichean, more nuanced approaches
to foreign policy should be dismissed by this address."
"Bush's agenda is even more ambitious than Wilson's," noted Eland.
"Wilson only wanted to make the world safe for democracy, but Bush wants
to make the world democratic and to do so at the point of a gun, if necessary."
(Inter Press Service)