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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 January, 2005, 17:56 GMT
Bush speaks - now what?
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

President Bush's second inaugural speech has been praised as a promise by his supporters and criticised as a threat by his opponents - and it has left the world wondering what it will mean in practice.

Passenger aircraft flying over cornfield, Philadelphia, US
Al-Qaeda's attacks on US soil paved the way for new policy
The central theme of his speech was the sentence that linked the security of the US to what is happening around the world.

"The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands," the president said.

The implication of this is that the US asserts the right to intervene around the world under the banner of "freedom", adding to its earlier declaration of the doctrine of the pre-emptive strike.

Mr Bush left it unclear as to what action might be taken in what crisis, but he has taken US foreign policy to a new level.

This was not how Jimmy Carter saw the world in his inaugural address in 1977. It was the other way round for him.

"Our nation can be strong abroad only if it is strong at home," was what he said.

Even Ronald Reagan, who happily intervened in Afghanistan, central America and elsewhere, did not go as far as Mr Bush.

In his first inaugural address, Mr Reagan concentrated on the need for a domestic renaissance.

In his second address, he did not say that freedom at home depended on freedom abroad. He simply stated: "Freedom is our best ally."

Lesson from Sharansky

Mr Bush sounded more like John Kennedy when he said: "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

President Bush at his inauguration

John Kennedy did not make the link that Mr Bush did. But then none of the other presidents have had to face the phenomenon of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda was what this speech was really all about.

It was, like it or not, a philosophical statement, an assertion that the US stands for something.

What it stands for, in Mr Bush's view, is what the former Soviet dissident and later Israeli government minister, Natan Sharansky, wrote about in his recent book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror.

In a lecture about the book, which Mr Bush himself has publicly endorsed, Mr Sharansky explained his theme.

"We... appreciate and recognise the power of weapons of mass construction which we in the free world possess - the power of freedom and democracy to change the world and to overcome tyranny and terrorism," he said.

Long-term goal

The Bush second inaugural has implications for America's friends and foes.

For friends, it should make uncomfortable reading.

View from a US helicopter over Afghanistan
This was the first inauguration since the war on terror began
"We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people," Mr Bush declared.

Does this mean that the Saudi royal family, the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, let alone a raft of obscure governments in Central America and Africa, not to mention China, have to radically change their ways?

It would be nice if they did, but not absolutely necessary, if comment by the White House is to be believed.

Officials there have said since the speech that several of these countries have undertaken reform already.

As White House official Daniel Bartlett said: "It is a goal that is critically important, one that doesn't come to fruition overnight. It will move at different speeds and different paces in different countries."

So the US might lecture such countries a bit more. But it will not turn its back on them.

Democratisation policy

Yet if the second Bush administration ignores the faults of its friends, it lays itself open to criticism under the principles laid down in this speech.

Iran military parade
Condoleezza Rice named Iran as an 'outpost of tyranny'

The implication for the new Palestinian leadership perhaps is that it should not look to the United States to exert pressure on Israel, but that it should first look to offer "decent treatment" to its "own people."

Indeed, the new hurdle the Palestinians must overcome is a requirement for "democratisation".

The new Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice made this clear to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing this week.

She called for a "viable, independent and democratic state for the Palestinian people".

The word "democratic" used not to be mentioned in such US policy statements. Even now, Ms Rice did not use the word "Palestine."

Iraq omission

And what of America's foes? They of course have been on notice for some time under the doctrine of the pre-emptive strike.

The speech was not a manual of specific foreign policy goals. One has to look elsewhere for detailed policy objectives.

Condoleezza Rice listed six countries as "outposts of tyranny" to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - Cuba, Burma, North Korea, Iran, Belarus and Zimbabwe.

So they can expect some attention, especially Iran. Vice-President Cheney said, in an interview with MSNBC, that if diplomatic action did not stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, then military action might be taken by Israel.

The strength of the speech was in what it said about freedom, its weakness was what it did not say about Iraq, which can be seen as an effort to impose that freedom.

Since the project in Iraq is likely to help define this presidency, it cannot be ignored.

Its absence suggests uneasiness in the White House, a sense that the reality in Iraq does not match the rhetoric of the speech.




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