A Mis-Statement of the Union Address

By Zunes, Stephen | Foreign Policy in Focus, February 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

A Mis-Statement of the Union Address


Zunes, Stephen, Foreign Policy in Focus


This essay evaluates some of the key claims made by President George W. Bush in his State of the Union address of January 31, 2006.

"In this decisive year, you and I will make choices that determine both the future and the character of our country. We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom--or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life. We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy--or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting--yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people ... the only way to secure the peace ... the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership--so the United States of America will continue to lead."

This is an extraordinarily simplistic formulation of a series of complex issues facing the United States and the world. Opposing a foreign policy that includes the invasion of sovereign nations on the far side of the globe and prosecuting bloody counter-insurgency wars is not a call to "retreat from our duties." Opposing neoliberal international economic policies that favor powerful multinational corporations at the expense of American jobs, labor rights, consumer protection, and a healthy environment is not a call to "shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity." Challenging such dangerous policies of the Bush administration is not advocating "isolationism and protectionism."

More fundamentally, the pursuit of a foreign policy based upon reckless unilateralism and militarism--which has alienated our country from the vast majority of the international community--is not the same as "leadership."

Terrorism, Authoritarianism, and Freedom

"On September 11th, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state 7, 000 miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country."

Actually, the "problems" that led to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States did not originate in Afghanistan. Sixteen of the nineteen hijackers were from the oppressive, U.S.-backed dictatorship of Saudi Arabia and others were from the oppressive, U.S.-backed dictatorships in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Most of them had received more "training" in flight schools in the United states than they ever did in Afghanistan and the terrorist cells from which the 9/11 hijackers emerged did not coalesce in "failed and oppressive states," but in Germany and the United States. Furthermore, the rise of the Taliban and the chaos that did take place in the "failed and oppressive state" of Afghanistan came about in part as a result of the $5 billion of aid the U.S. government sent to radical Islamic militias in that country during the 1980s.

"Dictatorships shelter terrorists, feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror."

Again, this is an incredibly simplistic formulation: The United States is a democracy, but it has sheltered Cuban and Nicaraguan terrorists implicated in attacks that have killed scores of civilians. Similarly, the United States--along with such democracies as Great Britain, France, India, and Israel--have pursued and possess nuclear weapons. Furthermore, a number of democratic nations have failed to respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors. For example, Israel has invaded and occupied its neighbors and India has engaged in serious human rights abuses against its citizens in Kashmir, the Punjab, and its eastern states.

Conversely, there are scores of dictatorships that do not shelter terrorists or seek weapons of mass destruction.

"Far from being a hopeless dream, the advance of freedom is the great story of our time. In 1945, there were about two dozen lonely democracies on Earth. …

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