President Bush: Speech Signals No Change in Policy

January 27, 2005

As I have been saying in my blog posts (here and here) and column, President Bush’s speech was not a harbinger of some new era of American militaristic imperialism. He decided to augment the Bush Doctrine — involving actual military action against terrorists and terrorist states, preemptively, when necessary — by invoking his bully pulpit and other nonmilitary means to promote democracy and freedom throughout the world. In his speech he specifically denied that this meant he would start launching new military actions. Yet that’s the way many chose to interpret it, so that when he has further elaborated following the speech, he is wrongly accused of retreating from him plan. This Washington Post story about the president’s comments yesterday on the matter vindicates what I’ve been saying.

From the article:

President Bush yesterday characterized his Inauguration Day goal of “ending tyranny in our world” as a long-term ideal rather than a new policy redefining U.S. relations with repressive governments, as he ratcheted back expectations of a more muscular approach to spreading freedom abroad.

While saying he had “firmly planted the flag of liberty” in Iraq, Bush offered no tangible plans for how he would plant it in other countries, suggesting instead that the stirring words of last week’s inaugural address were meant as a statement of principles recapitulating his first-term practices.

“My inaugural address reflected the policies of the last four years,” Bush told reporters at the first news conference of his second term. Asked if the speech that termed advancing democracy “the calling of our time” reflected a policy shift, he said: “No. As I said, it reflects the policy of the past, but it sets a bold new goal for the future. And I believe this country is best when it heads toward an ideal world.”

See if that’s not essentially what I said in my blog posts and column. Again, the inaugural speech did not represent a shift in policy,” but it lifts up the nonmilitary promotion of democracy and freedom as long-term goals of the United States.