January 24, 2005

More on the Inaugural Speech

To be sure, on the right, and critics like Peggy Noonan aside, there have been quite a few breathless paeans to Bush inaugural speech of late. Here's one classic in the genre:

There is no concession in this to the complaints of his critics, no defensiveness about the course of events, no reference to the counsels of sophisticated nuance. He set out a breathtakingly ambitious goal: to bring democracy to the entire world. One would like to know the reaction of Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar. Or the Iranian mullahs. Or Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Or China's rulers.

Sorry, and maybe it's just me, but I don't think Bandar was quaking in his boots as he took in the speech--perhaps from the ski slopes of Aspen. Such hyper-cheerleady treatments of the inaugural aside, however, there have been more, er, nuanced analyses of the inaugural speech on the center-right to right too. The best I've seen so far are by Bob Kagan, Bill Kristol and Fareed Zakaria.

First, Zakaria. His point is simply that, per Freedom House rankings and such, the world is already freer than its ever been. The goal of democratization remains important and noble, to be sure--but, Zakaria argues, let's not necessarily get too caught up with exporting democracy to Cuba and Belarus at the expense of other mega issues like "civil strife, extreme poverty and disease." This, to an extent, is a fair point--and needs to be kept in mind--particularly given the role of failed states in fostering conditions that provide fecund conditions for terrorist bases, recruitment, and so on. Put differently, in our lust for exporting freedom hither dither, let's not forget the basic need for order either.

Next, Bob Kagan sees U.S. foreign policy as having moved through three phases since Bush assumed the presidency. First, pre-9/11, a "realist retrenchment" (ie, no more kindergarten building). All this changed on the "day of fire," 9/11--when the war on terror became the dominant paradigm, of course. Now, pace Kagan, we are entering a third phase:

[Bush] has grounded American foreign policy in universal principles, in the Declaration of Independence and what Lincoln called its "abstract truth, applicable to all men at all times." The goal of American foreign policy is now to spread democracy, for its own sake, for reasons that transcend specific threats. In short, Bush has unmoored his foreign policy from the war on terrorism.

And, yes, while Kagan allows that we can be cynical (Karimov! Musharraf! Abdullah!) he neverthless points out:

I believe Bush understands the implications of his universalist rhetoric. In Ukraine, Bush chose democracy over his relationship with Putin -- a first example of a paradigm beyond the war on terrorism. In Asia, too, we may be on the threshold of a strategic reevaluation that places democratic allies, not China, at the core of American strategy.

Kagan doesn't mention it, but, with Ukraine, Bush also chose to support a leader who was likelier to pull troops out of Iraq--displaying a non-Ahab like obsession with the war in Mesopotamia. This aside, Kagan believes what he calls this new "higher realism," while discomforting to some in the realist community, will nevertheless likely appeal to a greater world audience as it moves U.S. objectives away from the sole prism of the war on terror--thereby better appealing to universalist aspirations.

I think Kagan and Zakaria both make very good points. Zakaria, in paticular, is right that we must think of issues beyond exportation of freedom and the war against terror (development, poverty, disease etc.) The tsunami certainly reminded us of that. And Kagan is right that appealing to publics by going beyond the war on terror is likelier than not good strategy.

But, of all the articles I've seen, it's Bill Kristol who got closest to interpreting this speech per B.D.'s initial take:

Expansive does not mean reckless. Bush avoids John Kennedy's impressive but overly grand, "pay any price, bear any burden" formulation. Bush states that military force will of course be used to "protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats," and that "we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary." But he explains that the task of ending tyranny around the world is not "primarily the task of arms." The goal of ending tyranny will be pursued through many avenues, and is the "work of generations."

And Bush makes careful distinctions among the nations of the world. There are democratic allies, to whom he reaches out for help. There are "governments with long habits of control"--Russia, or China, or the Arab dictators--whose leaders Bush urges to start on the "journey of progress and justice, and America will walk at your side." But he also makes clear to these leaders that we will pressure them and hold them accountable for oppression, and that we will support dissidents and democratic reformers in their countries.

Then there are the "outlaw regimes." It is their rulers who call to mind Lincoln's statement: "Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it." So for those nations we intend to promote regime change--primarily through peaceful means, but not ruling out military force in the case of threats to us.
If the critics of the speech who have denounced it as simple-minded were to read it, they would find it sophisticated. They might even find it nuanced.

Still, sophisticated and nuanced as it is, it does proclaim the goal of ending tyranny. And just as Truman's speech shaped policy, so Bush's will. As he implicitly acknowledges, his presidency will be judged not by this speech but by his achievements. The speech, by laying out a clear and compelling path for U.S. foreign policy, will make substantial achievements easier. There will be vigorous debates over how to secure these achievements--debates over defense spending and diplomacy, over particular tactics and operational choices. We will at times differ with the president on some of these matters, as we have at times in the past. But on the fundamental American goal, President Bush has it right--profoundly right.

I'll have more on this in the days ahead. But the point is that Bush is marrying realism with universalist, neo-Wilsonian (though, unlike Wilson, it's America and not international organizations that would appear to have the lead role in all this) idealism in pragmatic (if grandiose sounding) fashion. Realism is still alive and well. As Andrew Sullivan puts it:

Critics of the president's inaugural speech are, I think, misunderstanding it. It's not a program; it's not a New Year's Resolution that will revolutionize America's relationship with every major country. It was a thematic speech. That's all. It's an attempt to provide the president's own melody to the chorus of his administration. A brief look at the Bush administration's first four years does not reveal naive utopianism with regard to unfree countries. Fareed Zakaria usefully points this out:

The president said in his speech to the world’s democrats, 'When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.' But when democratic Taiwan stood up to communist China last year, Bush publicly admonished it, siding with Beijing. When brave dissidents in Saudi Arabia were jailed for proposing the possibility of a constitutional monarchy in that country, the administration barely mentioned it. Crown Prince Abdullah, who rules one of the eight most repressive countries in the world (according to Freedom House), is one of a handful of leaders to have been invited to the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. (The elected leaders of, say, India, France, Turkey and Indonesia have never been accorded this courtesy.) The president has met with and given aid to Islam Karimov, the dictator of Uzbekistan, who presides over one of the nastiest regimes in the world today, far more repressive than Iran's, to take just one example.

And grown-ups - even idealistic grown-ups - know this is inevitable. The problem with Bush is not his ideals. It's his ability to put those ideals into practice. In the series of screw-ups that was the Iraq war, Bush would have done better to think less about the idea of liberty and more about the nuts and bolts of how to build a nation. Just one.

Put differently, Rice and Zoellick have to implant more Fukuyama, more Gaddis--less Krauthammer, Barone. The nuts and bolts, the hard work of forging democracy, none of it is easy. The aspirational narrative Bush delivered to the nation in his inaugural was noble and essentially right. But it must be married to pragmatic tactics and methods, the revolutionary fervor will have to be calibrated, and trade-offs between pursuing democratization with maximum alacrity and the pursuit of national security interests will often still need to be made.

Posted by Gregory at January 24, 2005 04:59 AM | TrackBack (184)

The whole debate about Bush's speech is veering off into ungrounded, unrealistic psychobabble. Let's take a step back and get real. Can you imagine if Clinton had the same history as Bush with beacons of democracy like Prince Bandar, and had given a high-profile inaugural speech like this? Conservatives would have savaged him, called him a hypocrite, and said that "words matter"---a phrase they (and I ) said many times during the 1990's in criticism of Clinton.

Bottom line: When Bush renounces his family's longstanding close personal friendship with the Saudi Royal Family, stops chumming it up with a nuke-wielding Pakistani General who SEIZED power from a democratically-elected leader, announces that the massive amount of aid we send to Mubarak every year (a large amount of which ends up in Mubarak's personal account) will stop, pulls all our troops out of Kuwait and calls for the Emir to step down (the Emir that Bush's father went to WAR to re-install), and explicity demands at their next comfy fireside chat in the Oval Office that King Abdullah abdicate Jordan's throne and free his people from decades of torture and tyranny, I'll stop saying Bush is being hypocritical.

Bush's hypocrisy in PERSONAL as well as institutional. And it is ongoing; does one speech changes decades of national and personal actions? Is there someone ready to argue that his family is not really close to the Saudi Royal family, and Bush is not close personal friends with freedom's child Prince Bandar?

Posted by: DCInsider at January 24, 2005 06:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As long as photos like this are being taken in Iraq, any discussion about how the United States represents freedom or democracy is moot as well as ludicrous:


Can anyone look at that little girl's face and even attempt to argue that we are not doing our enemies' work for them? We are rapidly shredding the only currency we have that has any real value: The moral high-ground that this nation has spent centuries building.

At this rate, that currency will be completely destroyed four years from now. The only question is how many will die between now and then, and how much of ourselves we will destroy.

What the heck has happened to this country during the past four years?

Posted by: AbjectRealism at January 24, 2005 06:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think it was a great speech, reflecting the symmetry between Bush's philosophy at home and abroad. "Economic independence" is another way of saying "liberty." He's right, and in this country it can be available for all.

Bush is not a naif. Surely his enemies will give him that? He doesn't expect to flip China tomorrow. Cuba, maybe, but not China. He issues this as a guideline or manifesto to accord with his own large conscience and the traditions of his country. When he has a choice he will opt for the oppressed.

This is the approach 75% or 80% of the American people would like him to take, including Democrats. The latter are still in the decompression chamber from November, but, as someone above remarked, when they read it they will not complain much.

Some aspects of this Weltanschauung may have jelled for him recently... No doubt he has learned a great deal in four years on the job, and perhaps we are fortunate to have a president who doesn't need more training. If his second term lives up to the quality of this speech, it will be world class.

Posted by: exguru at January 24, 2005 11:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush's speech was alright in terms of what he wants to do, but he completely exaggerates America's influence in the world. America's limits have been tested by exporting democracy and freedom to one medium-sized country sick of totalitarianism. How the hell is it going to repeat that feat across great swathes of Asia and Africa? America has basically no influence in the two countries (besides Iraq) of immediate concern (North Korea and Iran) and only slightly more in China.

Having the best military in the world won't help much. TAKING countries is one thing, HOLDING them and getting them to do what you want is something else entirely.

Posted by: PJ at January 24, 2005 11:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

OK, but Kristol IIRC advocates overthrowing the Syrian, Iranian, and North Korean regimes ASAP. So I would hardly put him in the "pragmatic" camp ... rather, he's quite willing to embrace "Dictatorship and Double Standards" ...

Posted by: praktike at January 24, 2005 02:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I support steps towards a World Without Dictators; and thought Bush did well.

Military is not the first choice, but is a possibility.

I thought if Kerry had been elected, Israel would have "had" to first strike against Iran -- now I think they can hope for US backed tough inspections. Even if it's mostly delay of Iranian nuke desires.

I wish Bush would highlight to failure of the UN to solve the genocide in Sudan. Little direct threat to the US (terror training), but on-going genocide.

And why isn't Kuwait a better democracy?

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at January 24, 2005 02:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"And why isn't Kuwait a better democracy?"

Because it's a monarchy?

Posted by: praktike at January 24, 2005 04:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Because it's a monarchy?"

You mean like Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, Japan, etc., etc., etc.?

Posted by: PJ at January 24, 2005 05:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Point to PJ. In any case, the House of Sabah doesn't seem inclined to share too much power, and there isn't much of a movement to force them to do so. Bush I made a lot of promises about Kuwaiti democracy, but at the end of the day neither he nor the Clenis did much. They're our pals.

Posted by: praktike at January 24, 2005 07:05 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I clicked on your link, thinking I would see the latest in torture pics, or at least American troops shooting or scaring somebody without cause. Because those are the sorts of shots (combined with all the legal activity to permit a kindler, gentler torture) that make Bush's speech hard to take.

But, since you are a realist, you know that in any war, there will be someone's father killed, and there will be a photographer to catch the grief. It does not matter to that child whether her father was a suicide bomber off to murder his fellow citizens, a guy smuggling guns to insurgents, or someone who does not have the sense to pull over when Americans waving guns ask him to do so. It's one of many reasons why war is a horrible thing.

I guess I simply disagree with your premise. There are number of pictures and actions that make Bush's speech profoundly empty for me. This is not one. Our soldiers are fighting a war. They are creating orphans and widows in the process. It's sad. But then, the Insurgents are doing their best to create dead women and children. That's worse.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at January 24, 2005 07:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Appalled Moderate:

You are making my point for me. The photo of that little girl is a perfect example of why you only go to war as a last resort---and when you attack another nation in a "pre-emptive action" you better be damn sure that you are justified in doing so precisely because photos like the one of that little girl are inevitable. Yes: These sorts of terrible things HAPPEN in war. They certainly happened in Germany and Japan because of our military action thousands of times over, did they not? That's the nature of war. But BECAUSE that's the nature of war, the moral bar is set far higher for offensive, pre-emptive action.

Do you want to argue that in terms of the defense of the United States, it was just as important to go to war with Iraq as with Germany and Japan---especially in light of what we now know about the lack of any WMD? Would anyone have been as morally outraged about the photo of that little girl if she was sitting in Hiroshima or Berlin 60 years ago?

All wars are not the same. When in doubt, see Phyrrus.

Posted by: AbjectRealism at January 24, 2005 07:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The goal of democratization remains important and noble, to be sure--but, Zakaria argues, let's not necessarily get too caught up with exporting democracy to Cuba and Belarus at the expense of other mega issues like "civil strife, extreme poverty and disease." This, to an extent, is a fair point--and needs to be kept in mind--particularly given the role of failed states in fostering conditions that provide fecund conditions for terrorist bases, recruitment, and so on. Put differently, in our lust for exporting freedom hither dither, let's not forget the basic need for order either.

Strong disagreement. An economist would most probably argue that a country becomes stable, self-sufficient and prosperous in proportion to its adoption of freedom and democracy. Famine, disaster, strife, war, and other calamitous events occur or worsen among non-democratic non-free societies.

The USA has in the past preferred stability over all else. This game of "realpolitik" has given us such "stable" regimes as the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein. I think history will applaud GW Bush for attempting to delete this strategy from this country's playbook, for replacing stability with actual self-sufficiency, which practically speaking, means one thing and one thing alone: democratic freedom.

Posted by: Hovig at January 24, 2005 07:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Praktike -

But the title of the head of their is utterly irrelevant - if they were a non-monarchical dictatorship, they would have exactly the same problems. Your post seemed to imply that monarchy and democracy couldn't coexist. Which is a very American notion (at any rate I have heard it mostly from Americans), and one without basis in fact.

Posted by: PJ at January 24, 2005 07:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

America's preference for stability in the Arab countries is also responsible for the existence of the Jordanian monarchy, the Moroccan monarchy, the Egyptian peace with Israel, and the relative tranquility of the Gulf emirates. Even ignoring the fact that the much-disparaged American aid to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s helped prevent the bestial Khomeini regime from sweeping into the Arab world, and the further fact that most of the very worst Arab regimes -- Syria, Libya, Iraq -- were Soviet rather than American clients during the Cold War, these are not insignificant achievements.

The alternative to "stability" in Eastern Europe in the 1980s was democracy, more or less. This was true in South Africa around the same time, and in Latin America a few years earlier. As Americans we need to separate our wish that it is true everywhere at all times from the reality that it is not.

There is nothing better than the Saudi royal family on offer on the Arabian peninsula. Maybe Egypt could do better than Mubarak, but maybe not. And the single biggest reason to doubt America's mission to establish democracy in Iraq is the mismatch between a highly demanding system of government and the backward tribal culture and religion of the Arabs.

It was completely predictable that while more conservative critics would criticize Bush's second inaugural speech as over-ambitious or impractical, his more liberal critics would offer only the fatuous charge that it was insincere. No more than Bush do American liberals doubt that the major reason democracy has not emerged in more countries that have never known it before is faulty American policy. But this is nonsense.

No one claims that the transition from the de Klerk to the Mandela government in South Africa was primarily a triumph of American policy. Yet some people are prepared to believe -- and others, who may not believe it, to talk as if they did -- that democracy will surely bloom in Saudi Arabia or Egypt if only the United States is truly sincere about promoting it there, or for that matter in Uzbekistan. Small wonder that the only halfway cogent criticism of Bush's addled Wilsonianism comes from the political right.

Posted by: Zathras at January 24, 2005 11:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Bush's inugurations speech is full of noble intentions, but reeks of Hypocrisy. He talks of bringing freedom and democracy to the world, but yet has presided over the greates erosions of American Civil liberties in history (patriot act anyone??) and been elected in not 1 but 2 elections so riddled with inconsistencies they were a joke.

Yet I would be incredibly happy if the Bush Administration deliver to these "promises" - I truly would! Unfortunately the last 4 years have proven that this Administration is not exactly trustworthy. Still I will be happy to be proved wrong.

Now for something controversial: Who said democracy was the only way to go anyway??

I put to Singapore as a great example of where a benevolent dictatorship can benefit some nations. Singapore is a dictatorshuip which masquerades as a democracy. Yet this regime has transformed Singapore from a largely former British colony backwater into one of the key players in the SE Asia economy and one of the most important ports in the Region.

Perhaps because of this we don't hear any calls for regime change in Singapore. For developing nations, or those with difficult ethnic divides, this may be a better solution than full democracy, until they reach a higher level of development. Why? because authoritarian regimes have the advantage of being able to mobilise a nation more quickly and sometimes more effectively than in a democracy.

With a leader of vision and benevolence towards the populace (a rare commodity in dictators I'll admit), it may be possible to take fragmented, damaged states and restore them to a level of development and stability that may then make democracy feasible.

Food for thought....

Posted by: Aran B at January 25, 2005 01:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Um.. Apologies for the crap spelling in my post above. Rant off.

Posted by: Aran B at January 25, 2005 01:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Aran B., the problem is that for every Lee Kwan Yu, there are at least two Robert Mugabes. The good thing about democracy is that you can, in theory, kick out bad leaders.

Posted by: praktike at January 25, 2005 04:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


The war is with us. We pull out now (the only way to avoid this picture in a US context), it will be replaced by Iraqi butchering Iraqi and charming Zarqawi videos. Those don't do much for the US reputation either.

Starting this war was a mistake. Pulling out before giving the Iraqis a shot at ruling themselves without being cowed by Baathists and jihadis is a larger one.

Posted by: Appalled Moderate at January 25, 2005 02:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agreed Praktike,

That said though perhaps there is a case in some developign natios for a Statutory appointed leader (UN sanctioned??) as an intermediate step between Autocracies and Democracy - for a period of 4-5 years to get genuine Stability.

One of my criticisms of the Post war efforts in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is that they are trying to implement democracy too early, whilst things are far too unstable. Democracy is a fragile flower at first and planting it into stony soils willnot aloow it to flourish...

Posted by: Aran B at January 25, 2005 07:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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