Monday, January 24, 2005

Words. Words. Words.

BushCheney’s inaugural address is wrapped in the rhetoric of freedom and liberty, words that camouflage the brutal reality and failure of his foreign policies. It’s a clever device. Who can argue that the United States should not stand for freedom and liberty. Those are core values for this nation. Freedom and liberty are important to human dignity. The United States has articulated and often lived those values in its short history as a nation. The ideals recognize the inherent, inalienable worth of all human beings. A world where all decisions and actions respect individual dignity would be far superior to the one in which we live now.

So then, why do I scoff at BushCheney’s words? I’m skeptical because the administration’s methods and actions do not respect other nations and their peoples. BushCheney is the arbiter of America’s interests, which will be pursued even to the detriment of others whose only option is to be “with us or against us.” Thus, he has given the world a war that is killing Iraqis, destroying their homes, businesses and public infrastructure. All in the name of “National Security” but which, in fact, weakens our security as more and more Iraqis come to hate and resent America as the foreign occupier.

BushCheney claims to be laying out a vision, a framework for articulating policies and relations with other nations. Their vision does not require armed intervention but rather it defines what the United States will expect of its world partners if they wish to maintain good relations with this nation. That vision is powerful in that it offers consistent criteria for establishing policy. But it lacks an important element: reciprocity. If the US can make demands of other nations, the reverse is also true. Other nations have the right to make demands of the United States. That part of freedom and liberty does not fit into BushCheney’s rhetoric. His actions during the past four years demonstrate little willingness to work with other nations in resolving international problems unless those nations are willing to accept and approve BushCheney’s policies without criticism or comment.

BushCheney sought to stir America’s soul with a crusade for liberty and freedom. In the best messianic tradition of American politics, he invokes the image of this nation as the Beacon of Liberty that must always shine out to an oppressed world. That is a long tradition in America but it is also one that has bedeviled the US in its relations with other nations. BushCheney’s inaugural speech was “Wilsonian” in its call for freedom. BushCheney’s vision of a world without repression is much like Woodrow Wilson’s vision of a “world safe for democracy.” Wilson’s efforts largely failed. Although brought the rhetoric of democracy to the world stage, his ideals lost out to European realpolitik and isolationism at home.

Isolation continues to plague America in the world. Unlike the 1920's when Americans just didn’t care about affairs beyond our borders and felt secure behind our ocean shields, Americans in 2005 do care. We care a lot and we know that our geography no longer protects us. However, we are still isolated by our ignorance of the world, by how little we know of others’ histories, cultures and traditions. America as an actor on the world stage has all the moves but does not know how to use them effectively on that stage. The irony is that the most powerful nation on earth is indeed the “pitiful, helpless giant” that Richard Nixon feared. Our capability is not matched by the knowledge and understanding that would enable us to use that capability effectively.

The United States as the missionary of democracy is a role that is best played carefully and with nuance in the world. Most nations, like most individuals, do not like being lectured to or humiliated. They see American certainty and demands as arrogance and interference. Time, patience and understanding are better ways to convey the ideals of human rights and dignity. Unfortunately, these are not characteristics of relations among nations, especially the United States. Actions, especially unfortunate ones, always speak louder than words. So far, BushCheney has not demonstrated that he can engage the world constructively. America’s low standing in the world today is a sad testament to his BushCheney’s stunning incompetence. So, too, are the thousands who have died at his hands.


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