Friday, January 21, 2005

Rhetoric vs. Reality

Sure Bush's inaugural works well rhetorically, but how much of it can we really take seriously. London's The Times has a wonderfully sceptical headline today: "His Second-Term Mission: to end tyranny on Earth" I thought I was idealistic...

Alas, forgive me for questioning both the desire and ability to follow this pledge through. I admire the lofty, underlying goals of the speech, of course. But all too frequently, my stomach turns at Bush's opportunistic invocation of those ever-esoteric terms "liberty" and "freedom". What do these mean? Bush talks as if they exist only as ends and - like so much of Bush's political vision - they can only be achieved by one means alone, his.

But where oh where was this argument in the days leading up to a declaration of War in Iraq? Only as it became clear that no WMD would be found did the rationale for the invasion focus on the "morality" of liberation. A switch of convenience in an election year? Or a genuine overhall of American foreign policy? I can't help but see it as the gap between rhetoric and reality. It is so easy to be for liberty and freedom everywhere. The argument is about your actions, speaking will not make it so.

A Washington Post article today attacks the gap between reality and rhetoric. Some examples:

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, was struck by the fact that Bush mentioned "liberty" repeatedly but did not use the phrase "human rights" as an overriding goal. "The decision to speak in terms of liberty instead of human rights was deliberate," Roth said. "Liberty is an abstract concept, but human rights bind everyone, including the Bush administration. It's easy to say I'm for liberty but difficult to say I'm for human rights when he's overseeing what we know is a conscious policy of coercive interrogation, including inhuman treatment and sometimes torture."

During her confirmation hearings this week, Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice also stressed that she would focus on spreading democracy and freedom around the globe. Several senators questioned her on the inconsistency of the administration's approach, notably Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee (R-R.I.). He challenged her to explain why the administration looks the other way when it comes to countries with near-dictatorships, such as Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, while heaping scorn on nations with some level of elections, such as Venezuela and Iran.

Read the whole thing. Now I know you need to proceed incrimentally and that we cannot "free" all the world's countries at once, but pundits on both side of the aisle need to keep the microscope focused on the intricacies and execution of Bush's Second-Term Crusade. Beyond the propaganda, why THIS country, for example. Why is the "freedom" of Iranians more critical than those of citizens elsewhere?

Is "liberty" to become a convenient cover for pre-emptive invasions conducted mainly for other purposes? This is the primary concern. Kerry and the Democratic party missed an opportunity to define a foreign policy in their own terms last year, beyond the simplistic criticism that can be directed at the "global test" concept. I suggest they get going.

UPDATE [10 minutes later]: Even Peggy Noonan found the speech unnerving, referring to it as "mission inebriation". I have to agree. And does it strike anyone else as odd that Bush could have "danced all night" but instead was home in time for bed at 10:03PM? You think on this night of all nights he would party it up a bit...


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