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Steve Weissman: Calling the President's Bluff

Calling the President's Bluff

President Bush looks like he's tripping out on a freedom high, but the rest of the country could Just Say No.
By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 31 January 2005

As he made clear in his inaugural speech last week, George W. Bush has set the country on a course as audacious as any in American history.

"It is the policy of the United States," he declared, "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

He never said how he would spread America's view of freedom, or exactly where - and where not, though we can probably guess. Perhaps he plans to fill in the blanks this Wednesday night when he speaks to Congress on the State of the Union.

Still, from what he has told us so far, this supposedly humble, plain-spoken man is either enjoying a freedom high or suffering from enormous hubris. His supporters should take heed. To quote his favorite book, "Pride goeth before destruction, and haughtiness before the fall."

Mr. Bush's logic, if I may use the word, runs like this: Only the success of liberty in other lands can stop the growth of hatred and violence, which - in the form of terrorism - will cross our borders, no matter how we defend them, and mortally threaten the survival of liberty in our land.

Ergo and Abracadabra, he voices the magic equation: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one."

With this intoxicating leap, a struggle against a few thousand terrorists has once again ballooned beyond recognition, this time into a boundless crusade for freedom everywhere. Few American voters knew the extent of Mr. Bush's agenda. Congress never even discussed it. Yet, like an absolute monarch, the president has radically redefined our country's national interests to embrace untold deaths, endless deficits, and unlimited disaster.

Does this sound like mission creep?

It is, and on an imperial scale. But Mr. Bush and his speechwriter have framed it as the natural outgrowth of how we Americans see ourselves in historic terms. We are, we are taught, a singularly blessed nation with a universal, God-given mission to bring freedom and democracy to all people.

Mr. Bush echoes Woodrow Wilson, who led America into Europe's Great War "to make the world safe for Democracy." He paraphrases Harry Truman, who in 1947 declared it U.S. policy "to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures." He imitates J.F.K., who promised to "pay any price, bear any burden - to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

But somehow Mr. Bush's words do not sound the same, do they? Hot wars and cold, a colonial fiasco in Vietnam, and the C.I.A.'s overthrow of populist governments and support for some of the world's nastiest tyrants have made many of us wary of our national myth and the pitfalls of its good intentions. Even tougher for Mr. Bush, his ongoing "liberation of Iraq" makes a shabby showcase for selling the virtues of American intervention.

Part of this, he seems to grasp. In his short inaugural speech, the president of our supposedly secular nation finds ample room to celebrate the Author of Liberty, the Maker of Heaven and earth, the God who blesses and watches over the United States, a just God, and a God who moves and chooses as He will. Mr. Bush also calls upon the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people.

Yet, he never once mentions Iraq, though by his own account his Higher Father sent him there. Nor does he mention the lure of Iraqi oil reserves, the attraction of the 14 permanent military bases we're building in the country, or the pull of those multi-million dollar contracts his administration has handed to Halliburton, Bechtel, and other Republican donors. As if these mundane matters play no part, Mr. Bush's pitch is all freedom and democracy.

Believe him if you will. Most of the world does not. They hear his pious words as only a ruse or bluff. But no one should dismiss Mr. Bush as simply a hypocrite. He believes in his freedom high, as so many Americans do, often with a goodly dose of self-righteousness. All of which makes his new "War on Tyranny" even more dangerous than his taking his anti-terrorist crusade to Iraq.

Will Mr. Bush get away with his global escalation? Or will the country finally say "Enough!"

His State of the Union address Wednesday night - and how Congress, the media, and the American people respond - should give us all a better idea of how deep a hole we're in.


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.

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