Finding the Balance in President Bush’s Inaugural Address
At the risk of trying the patience, or interest, of some, I offer one last (I promise) analysis on President Bush’s Inaugural Address. Today, the Providence Journal’s Philip Terzian succinctly encapsulated what Bush’s speech was all about. :
George W. Bush declared that “the great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations.” To some, he seemed to be conjuring up the Kennedy ghosts in a quest to liberate a fractious world. To others, he was parroting the boilerplate rhetoric of American idealism.
Which was it? It was both. It can hardly be news to say that the American republic regards itself as a beacon, a “shining city on a hill,” to inspire daughters and sons of liberty around the world. That has been our civic religion, with minor variations, from the time of John Winthrop to Thomas Jefferson to Theodore Roosevelt and onward. Kennedy, after all, said that the “long twilight struggle” would “not be finished in the first hundred days . . . nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
The difference between 1961 and 2005, however, is experience. Bush’s objective in Afghanistan was to show that when tyranny takes the form of terrorism, it must be punished. In Iraq his intention, as I take it, is to demonstrate that freedom is naturally intrinsic, that tyranny can be attacked, and will be assaulted if it stands in the way of a larger objective — in this instance, a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli struggle.
In that sense, Bush is an advocate, not an evangelist, of freedom. He recognizes that the “long twilight struggle” against terrorism demands the toleration of imperfect regimes — Pakistan, Russia, China — and that exhorting the world to embrace freedom involves risk (Taiwan), as well as reward (Ukraine). The point is not that the United States can make impossible things happen, or will lead the charge in a dozen different places, but that American power means certain principles, as well as prosperity and military strength.