• Bush’s speech demonstrated that the U.S. drive towards empire will be strengthened, focusing on “freedom” and “liberty” as the key rationale.
  • The claim that U.S. foreign policy is based on support for freedom and liberty is a lie, and represents the worst kind of hypocrisy and double standards.
  • Bush’s speech signals that the rest of the world had better toe the U.S. line or face U.S. wrath.
  • Future U.S. military attacks will be justified as necessary to protect American freedom and liberty, and explained as bringing freedom and liberty to oppressed people around the world.

Bush’s second inaugural speech was designed to signal to the U.S. and to the rest of the world that the drive towards empire that shaped his first four years will be consolidated and strengthened in the second term, driven by a new focus on “the force of human freedom.” While never mentioning the word, the catastrophic Iraq war was recast as an unstoppable drive towards “freedom.”

The claim that Bush’s foreign policy is or will be based on support for real freedom and liberty is a lie, and represents the worst kind of hypocrisy and double standards. The fact is that the second Bush term will almost certainly reflect the same narrow standards for defining “freedom” and defining repressive governments as the first. When the U.S. sees an opportunity to use elections to bring a pro-Western government to power (Ukraine) or to claim that “freedom” and “democracy” are on the rise (Iraq) it will support elections. But elections are a tactic; real freedom and real liberty are not on Washington’s agenda. This gap between rhetoric and reality is not new – Bush also claimed to be against torture. There is new evidence supporting the allegation that Bush’s top symbol of freedom and democracy in Iraq, U.S.-installed prime minister Ayad Allawi, did in fact murder six unarmed, bound prisoners in the courtyard of a Baghdad prison in 2003.

As a result, the next four years are as unlikely to see serious diplomatic or economic (let alone military) pressure on such repressive allies as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Pakistan as were the last four. Among other things, these countries continue to provide valuable torture venues for the “rendition” of U.S. prisoners. It does mean that military threats against governments deemed “outlaw regimes” (which according to Condoleezza Rice include Cuba, Myanmar, Iran, North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe) or those judged “oppressors” will have an easier, automatic justification: liberty and freedom. Non-military attacks will likely rise as well, including the withholding of economic aid to poor countries the Bush White House deems insufficiently free and democratic.

While Bush’s rhetorical reference to the “untamed fire of freedom” will likely be the headline and centerpiece of press attention, probably the most important single line in his speech was his statement that “division among free nations is a goal of freedom’s enemies.” The statement is the second-term version of his infamous “you’re either with us or with the terrorists” line, signaling that his global coalition of the coerced had better toe the U.S. line.

We can anticipate that references to “freedom” and “liberty” will provide both the chosen rationale and the claimed result of military attacks, invasions and occupations in the next four years. Bush will continue to link “liberty” for Americans at home with “the success of liberty in other lands,” justifying unilateral military aggression as legitimate because its aim is to insure “the success of liberty in our land.”

The crusader-style absolutism of the Bush administration’s claim of righteousness has grown even stronger. Bush spoke in words of absolute certainty: “oppression is always wrong; freedom is eternally right.” But who is oppressed, what is freedom, what to do about the lack of freedom – are all subjects for the White House, not for global citizens. The Bush definition takes no account of the actual views of those living somewhere he deems subject to his “goal of ending tyranny in our world.” The view of increasing number of Iraqis, for instance – that their violent, impoverished, repressive, socially corrosive world of U.S. military occupation actually makes their lives less secure, more dangerous and generally worse than their lives under Saddam Hussein – has no place in Bush’s manichean world.

Bush’s speech described a world of endless military intervention against “outlaw regimes” and in support of “all who live in tyranny and hopelessness.” The U.S. “will not excuse oppressors,” he said, and addressing himself to those who live under oppression, “when you stand for liberty we stand with you.” Bush invoked the model of the U.S. military as a heroic global Spiderman, with the 82nd Airborne webswinging across the globe wherever brave men and women “stand for liberty.” The reality, of course, is far different. The U.S. occupation of Iraq, with all its horrors, is a much better example of what U.S. military intervention leads to.

The peace movement – both in the U.S. and globally – now faces the obligation of reclaiming the fight for freedom and liberty as our own. If the Bush administration really stood for freedom we would stand with them – but it doesn’t. WE are the ones who support real freedom and real liberty. We must redefine those concepts away from Bush’s xenophobic rhetoric aimed at justifying invasion and occupation, and instead return the goals of real freedom and real liberty – our goals – to their place at the heart of our struggle for peace and justice.

Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where she directs the New Internationalism project. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and more recently Ending the Iraq War: A Primer.

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