Saturday, January 22, 2005

FRED KAPLAN OF SLATE called Bush's inaugural speech "flimsy" and "shallow." He pointed out, as other commentators have, the abyss between Bush's idealistic words about holding tyrants around the globe to account and the actual policies of his administration, which includes support for many brutal dictatorships. He also pointed out that Bush should have a care when he makes public promises like this one:

"All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." The United States will also "encourage reform" in repressive governments "by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people. … Start on this journey of progress and justice," President Bush told these rogue leaders, "and America will walk on your side."
Such pledges are likely to be met with skepticism and even bitterness by oppressed people who did "stand up for their liberty" after the United States encouraged them to do so, and then were slaughtered when this country failed to make good on its commitment. Will it be different this time?
In 1956, the Voice of America encouraged the rebels of Hungary to rise up against their Communist regime, and when they did so, they were mowed down; the United States did not come to their aid and had no ability to do so. In 1991, George Bush's father encouraged the Shiite rebels of southern Iraq to rise up and overthrow Saddam Hussein, and after the Iraqi army was expelled from Kuwait and the war declared over, Saddam mowed down the rebels; the United States did not come to their aid. If the leaders of a democratic underground in some dictatorship hear this speech and rise up tomorrow against their own tyrants, will George W. Bush "stand with" them? Really?

On the other hand, Slate's Chris Suellentrop, although just as skeptical about the likelihood that Bush's rhetoric will match his administration's actions, sees the president's lofty promises as an opportunity to hold his feet to the fire. If Bush is telling us that his administration will no longer tolerate or ignore other nations' incursions on the freedom of their people, then progressive people should take him exactly at his word, and point out any backtracking on that solemn vow the minute it happens. It will be a lot harder for Pres. Bush to play footsie with countries like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Ukraine, and so many more now that he has made such a specific commitment to the cause of freedom all over the world.
Liberals, who will be inclined to quarrel with Bush's message, should have no objections to the values Bush identified as the guiding principles for his second administration. The issue is whether he really has any intention of promoting democracy in Russia, China, and the Mideast when promoting it comes into conflict with other economic and security interests of the United States. ... But rather than criticizing Bush's speech, Democrats should nod vigorously and then hold him to it.

No comments: