Sunday, January 23, 2005

Second Term Inauguration Speech by President Bush

True to his form of being bold at least in articulation of a vision, President Bush explicitly formulated the idea of Liberty at large as the guarantee of Freedom at home. In itself the concept is obvious and no brainier after 9/11; but he deserves the credit to formulate and espouse this concept from the bully pulpit of the inauguration speech; possibly one of the few presidents to do so if not the first one. He also deserves the credit of upholding the honorable tradition of being above the fray of partisan politics and to touch universal themes in such inauguration speeches. Indeed the speech was not much about his politics or his Conservative ideology.

However, there are certain objections to President Bush’s assertions on the basis of his actions in the first term, his approach to such problems and his overall conduct and justifications so far. The President walks the talk in case of the Afghanistan war. But it is bit of less convincing when the case of Iraq war comes up for introspection. The basis of WMD to go to the war overshadowed any argument for Liberty while selling the war to America people, the people who are essentially footing the bill of this war in terms lives and dollars. Given this history, it is hard to suppress the thought that the justification of the Iraq war as implanting the Freedom is a kind of after thought. Or is it an attempt to make best of the circumstances which developed later or an attempt to gloss and cover the misjudgment in starting and conducting the war? It is hard to know exact answers here, and it is equally hard to refute the charge of being opportunistic here.

Certain specific policies, if followed by this administration, would make everyone to accept the truthfulness of the president. The president needs to show the zeal in confronting tyrannies of the world instead of cohabiting with them. This means the president refuses to grant sanctity to dictators like Musharaf of Pakistan, the president makes honest efforts in bringing the Middle East peace (he is nowhere near to what the Clinton Administration spent it’s political capital on this problem), the president does not hesitate calling upon China to give freedom to it’s citizen backed by more concrete American sanctions and does not tolerate dictatorial tendencies of Putin like state heads. President Bush’s conduct in this regard in the first term does inspire any confidence to believe that he is doing what is in his capacities to promote Liberty in many non-democratic states of the world. Unless he demonstrates such a shift in the second term, his words in the inauguration speech would remain empty.

The next thing the president needs to acknowledge is that America has been engaging with many rulers who have not been following such democratic norms. Without acknowledging mistakes of the past presidencies, including policies of his administration in the first term; the talk of America backing democratic struggles of other societies rings hallow. Just look at how the presidency of the first Bush encouraged Shitte community in the Southern Iraq to revolt against Saddam after the first Gulf War but chickened out the last minute which resulted in the massacre of Shittes in Iraq. In fact one would argue that American conduct was immoral and the blood is on it’s hand for that episode. In a way it is quite easy to talk about Liberty and America’s support to Freedom struggle but to forget when America did not leave up to this lofty goal resulting in duplicitous behavior. Is it not that many in the world at times feel betrayed by America’s hypocrisy? The president who wants to proclaim so boldly about America’s unflinching commitment to Freedom owes to accept the responsibility of those occasions in the past when America failed to do so. It is no excuse that it happened in past presidencies. It is the other side of the coin – the same legacy which otherwise lends the weight to the pageantry of Inauguration and which offers the bully pulpit to President Bush in delivering such an overreaching sermon to the world. Possibly this awareness of circumspect past of America is what might have prompted earlier presidents to refrain from making such sweeping assertions. But then American presidency is a live institution and one expects each president contributes in taking it higher. It is legitimate, and even admirable, for President Bush to take this opportunity to evolve further the American Presidency in leading America to engage in this noble task of advancement of Liberty. It is just that he does that without any acknowledgement of the past. It is bit confining the nobility of the principle of supporting advancement of Freedom to say that events of 9/11 starkly activated America to renew it’s commitment to this principle. It is not to diminish the importance of events of 9/11, but it is more of universal truthness of the principle which is beyond any single incident. Given this understanding, it cannot be argued that America did not require to adopt this principle explicitly in past. So missing those opportunities in the past needs to be accounted in a way, at least acknowledged when a president wants to make the case of centrality of this principle in going forward.

Finally, there is one more realization needed by the president at the start of the new century – it is that America cannot be and should not be alone in this noble task of cultivating Freedom all over the world. Looking into the future, it is inconceivable to abrogate the role of custodian of Liberty only to America in the coming globalized village. Being the oldest functioning democracy for past 227 years alone does not justify that role. The world is different in the 21st century. It means America needs to work with like minded Democracies of the world to lead and establish a common front which acts the global custodian of Liberty. Younger democracies of India, Australia, Japan and older ones of Europe do need to be part of a coalition of free societies working together in advancing Liberty all over the globe. The real value of American Leadership is in shaping such a coalition of free societies instead of bit of an arrogant posture of a single crusader of Freedom. One does not get such a sense of cooperation in President Bush’s speech. Without emphasizing such a collaborative efforts along with the record of his first term, the inauguration speech leaves much to wait and see instead of whole hearted throwing ones lot behind President Bush. May be President Bush would get strength and wisdom in coming days to vigorously bridge these gaps. At the start of a new presidential term, at least that is the minimum that we all (political supporters and opponents included) can wish for President Bush and for our Nation.

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA;
January 23, 2005.

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