High Hopes, Hard Facts; the World's A Stage: His Ideals Are Soaring, but Now Bush Must Live and Lead by His Own Code

By Zakaria, Fareed | Newsweek, January 31, 2005 | Go to article overview

High Hopes, Hard Facts; the World's A Stage: His Ideals Are Soaring, but Now Bush Must Live and Lead by His Own Code


Zakaria, Fareed, Newsweek


Byline: Fareed Zakaria

It was a speech written for the ages, and it will live in history as a powerful affirmation of American ideas and ideals. George W. Bush's second Inaugural Address was the culmination, in style and substance, of a position he has been veering toward ever since September 11, 2001: that the purpose of American foreign policy must be the expansion of liberty. It is not a new theme for an American president. Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan all spoke in similar tones and terms. Bush, however, has brought to the cause the passion of the convert. In short declarative sentences, influenced by the King James Bible and by his most eloquent predecessors, Bush used virtually his entire speech to set out the distinctively American world view: that "the best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."

To borrow an old saw about the mission of journalism, Bush's words will "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." Democratic reformers around the world will surely take heart. Dictators will nervously ponder what it all means. This, too, is in a great American tradition. When Wilson and Roosevelt spoke out against empires, it rattled Europe's great powers. When Kennedy and Reagan spoke about freedom, it worried the juntas of Latin America and the despots of East Asia. When the Carter administration began issuing annual reports on human rights, it unnerved regimes across the world. In speaking honestly and openly about the importance and universality of freedom, America--and, to be fair, Europe--have made a difference. They have put freedom on the global agenda. Bush has aimed to push it even higher.

In doing so, however, Bush has also pushed higher on the agenda the question of American hypocrisy. I often argue with an Indian businessman friend of mine that America is unfairly singled out for scrutiny abroad. "Why didn't anyone criticize the French or Chinese for their meager response to the tsunami?" I asked him recently. His response was simple. "America positions itself as the moral arbiter of the world, it pronounces on the virtues of all other regimes, it tells the rest of the world whether they are good or evil," he said. "No one else does that. America singles itself out. And so the gap between what it says and what it does is blindingly obvious--and for most of us, extremely annoying." That gap just grew a lot bigger.

The gap is pronounced because Bush has done more with this speech than praise liberty. He has declared that promoting freedom is now American policy. In 1947, Harry Truman announced the "Truman Doctrine" that turned into the containment of the Soviet Union by saying, "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." Echoing that formulation, Bush declared, "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." The president goes on to outline various stances that the United States will adopt in the future, all suggesting a broad shift in American policy.

The chasm between rhetoric and reality, while inevitable, is striking. The Bush administration has not been particularly vociferous in holding dictators to account--no more or less, really, than other recent administrations. Vladimir Putin has presided over the most significant reversal of freedoms across the globe, only to be praised by Bush as a soulmate. More scandalously, the president has sided with Putin in his interpretation of the Chechen war as a defensive action against terrorists. In fact, while it is a complicated story, the Russian Army has killed about 100,000 Chechen civilians in a brutal campaign to deny them the right to secede.

The president said in his speech to the world's democrats, "When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you. …

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