Coming home in time to catch re-runs of Bush’s speech and the Lehrer Newshour, I am left with two questions: Was this as important and goal-setting a speech as it seems to me? Is Brzezinski as smugly (and why smug?) irritating as he seems to me?
Brzezinski (and his old boss as well) are disillusioned idealists: if the world is not perfect (i.e., if China doesn’t become a democracy in the next four years), then idealism like Bush’s is pointless and hollow. Perhaps I am overstating the depths of their cynicism (cynicism I doubt they see as nihilistic), but Brzezinski’s repeated use of the inflammatory “crusade,” like Carter’s refusal to closely vet the election in Venezuela and his embrace of that true nihilist Arafat, distils the essence of an administration that thought itself pure in the impure world of American politics. Impure it may be, but they seem to have lost their grounding, their sense of proportion. They’ve certainly lost their ideals. (More complaints below.)
Bush’s speech has an oratorical power. Its first allusion reinforces Scrappleface’s point: “we celebrate the durable wisdom of our Constitution, and recall the deep commitments that unite our country.” He narrates the history of the last fifty years, whose lesson, he concludes, is “There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.” He further argues that our liberty is dependent upon “the expansion of freedom.” The importance of this as melding the “realists” (Bush Sr., Scowcroft, Baker) and “idealists” (Reagan, Bush Jr.) is analyzed by Fred Barnes.
Update: Ann Althouse does a nice tivo’d analysis. (I want one of those!) She focuses upon Bush’s discussion of the relation of God to man, one that, as she observes, is profound and very much in the tradition we see in speeches such as those of Lincoln:
We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events. Not because we consider ourselves a chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills. We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul.
(Between this post as it continues and the earlier one I think I’ve blocked most of the speech – just read the whole thing at the link above.)
No clear consensus (it’s late – perhaps I’m just not recognizing it) on one great phrase or sentence. Perhaps this speech will not “pin down” Bush’s second term – or history will tell us which most summarized the fluid movement that is now or foretold the mystery that is the future.
The paragraph that blends the realist/idealist as Barnes puts it, goals with defense, is:
America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth. Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master, and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation. It is the honorable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security, and the calling of our time.
So it is the policy of the United States 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.
An extended metaphor places our responsibility to Iraq (unnamed but acknowledged throughout):
From all of you, I have asked patience in the hard task of securing America, which you have granted in good measure. Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon. Yet because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find it. By our efforts, we have lit a fire as well – a fire in the minds of men. It warms those who feel its power, it burns those who fight its progress, and one day this untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world.
Lehrer devoted most of the Newshour to the speech. First was a conversation between Zbigniew Brzezinski and Walter Russell Mead, moderated by Margaret Warner.
Brzezinski was remarkably dismissive–Bush was “not serious,” his speech pure “rhetoric” and “vacuous.” Mead admitted it was strong on the general and weak on the specific – but that is, he argued, the nature of such a speech.
Brzezinski seemed to assume that we had neither stick nor carrot, that our words, example, bully pulpit were useless. We shouldn’t invade others and if we can’t do that, well, what’s the point of such an idealistic position, he asks. Repeatedly he described the speech as a “sermon” full of high-sounding words but signifying nothing – or, if it did signify, it was a call to a “crusade.” His repeated choice of this word seemed to me unfortunate (at one time he represented us on the national stage – surely another word choice would not only be more accurate but also more diplomatic? The sole purpose of this would appear to be to undermine – not merely criticize – the president’s position).
But this also ignores the core of Bush’s stance for the last four years, one represented in this paragraph:
This is not primarily the task of arms, though we will defend ourselves and our friends by force of arms when necessary. Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own. America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.
His argument appears that this is “high sounding rhetoric” but Bush doesn’t have a plan, doesn’t mean it seriously, isn’t, indeed, serious.
Brzezinski, who claims Bush has led the country by and through fear for the last four years, admits that this speech does not, in itself, appeal to or incite fear in his audience.
Mead argues the speech was “breathtaking,” “audacious,” and a “brilliantly stated summation” of American foreign policy with “overwhelming implications”, indicating a major restructuring of the American role in the world. Of course, Mead admits, the situations are quite complicated; he notes the restraints on action. But he is sure (and sure we should not underestimate) how deeply the president believes in this vision. He notes that Bush believes the election was an “accountability moment” which validated his vision. Mead argues that, rather than “glossing over Iraq” (Warner’s words) the on-going war is a thread woven throughout the speech. (Certainly, as Mead observes, the “dishonorable to abandon” refers to Iraq–I can’t imagine any other way to take it.) As the discussion went on, Mead practically spat out the word “vacuous” in his disagreement with Brzezinski.
By the way, the passage Warner seemed to see as “threatening” – “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it ot for themselves; and, under the rule of a just God, cannot long retain it” – a) is a quote from Lincoln and b) is clearly talking about some kind of providential order (Bush is clearly not confusing himself nor our country as “the rule of a just God.”)
This exchange was followed by a Ray Suarez-moderated panel moderated of historians Ellen Fitzpatrick, Henry Graff and Richard Norton Smith. Again, there was considerable disagreement, but Fitzpatrick clearly sees it as an important speech (comparing it to Truman’s establishment of the Truman Doctrine). The usual dialogue between David Brooks and Mark Shields with Jim Lehrer rounded out these discussions.
The major networks must have handled this differently. The blog word is that Rather is looking forward to the inevitable scandal he sees coming with second terms. Ah, one would think he’d have scandal enough to worry about closer to home.