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.
~ George W. Bush’s Second Inaugural Address
She [America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right. Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.
She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
~ John Q. Adams
As I read the text of George W. Bush’s second inaugural address, my reaction began as alarm, transformed into perplexity, and finally came to rest at disgust. My assessment was formed around one central idea: It appears to have been written by individuals who, at their very core, do not understand the history and fabric of America.
Basically, Bush’s address was profoundly un-American.
Through the years, I have often heard anger directed at the very idea that anything can be "un-American." Historically, the charge has been hurled at liberals for their advocacy of European socialism, and it evokes much antagonism and alarm.
In my opinion, these objections are nonsense. America was created with specific ideas in mind. Any literate person can easily read the founding documents of our nation. The Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist Papers, and the speeches of our Founders are there for all to see. America was fashioned according to the ideals of individual liberty and limited government. The economic manifestation of that philosophy is laissez faire capitalism. The external manifestation of that philosophy is armed neutrality.
Throughout our nation’s history, various groups have arisen to challenge these principles. They have suggested that the founding ideals are incorrect, incomplete, or that they somehow are no longer valid to contemporary circumstances. Throughout most of the 20th Century, American liberals advocated an economic ideology that revolved around high taxes, big government, and centralized planning. That entire intellectual tradition was in profound contradiction to the clearly stated beliefs that accompanied our nation’s creation.
President Bush’s speech represents, in my opinion, the formal introduction of yet another ideology which seeks to displace traditional Americanism as the central core of our governance. Not since Woodrow Wilson, has a president enunciated a more breathtakingly belligerent and Jacobin ideology. He intends to "end tyranny in our world," and he will not shy away from breaking things and killing people to accomplish this goal. His ideology revolves around the belief that various peoples will respond positively to having their nations attacked and occupied for the purpose of creating American-style democracies. Consequently, an American attack need not be in response to an act of aggression. No specific threat to America need even be hypothesized.
This whole worldview is preposterous.
Bush’s address was much more appropriate for France in 1789 or Moscow in 1917 than for the United States of America. If I had to pick an historical analogy to President Bush, it would probably be Napoleon Bonaparte. I say this not because Bush has even a modicum of Napoleon’s military experience or genius, but rather because Bonaparte represented a stage of the French Revolution that is similar to the current stage of neo-conservatism in which we now find ourselves enmeshed.
After several years of the Reign of Terror, in which traditional French culture was uprooted in the name of Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite, the time had finally come to "change the world." Napoleon represented an attempt by the radical revolutionaries to export their ideology in order to usher in a new, utopian era. The rest of mankind was believed to be languishing in darkness and had to be liberated by force of arms.
The result was years of bloodshed and warfare that cost millions of lives.
Despite his occasional, weak statements to the contrary, the philosophy behind Bush’s speech is a similar exhortation for an endless war to transform humanity.
Bonapartism aside, I noticed two other interesting aspects of Bush’s address that are relevant to an analysis of his intentions:
#1 Osama Who?
The initial spark that caused this latest round of belligerence was the attacks of 9/11. In the immediate aftermath of those assaults, they were used as the casus belli for several military operations around the world. But soon thereafter, the Bush administration began to advocate military actions that were ever more remote from al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Iraq was attacked because of its alleged WMDs and its potential to pass them to al-Qaeda. President Bush expanded this WMD argument to name an "axis of evil" and to put them on notice for threatened "regime change." Only minimal attempts were made to connect these nations with the events of 9/11.
This inaugural address represents the formal liberation of neoconservative militarism from the terror attacks of 9/11. While Bush obliquely referenced September 11 early on in the speech, he clearly implies that any regime which is deemed "tyrannical" (in America’s unilateral opinion) is a legitimate target for military action. An association with al-Qaeda is irrelevant. An association with other Muslim radicals is immaterial. Whether the nation even represents a potential threat to America is of no consequence.
Neoconservative militarism no longer feels the need to hide behind the apron of 9/11. No more fairy tales concerning WMDs will be forthcoming. They are no longer necessary in the eyes of the neoconservatives, who have thrown off the pretense that their militarism is defensive in nature. Future wars will be justified merely by the moral imperative of exporting their Jacobin ideology.
Osama has served his purpose, and is now passé.
#2 The neoconservatives have drawn precisely the wrong conclusion from 9/11
Reading the text of Bush’s speech reveals a thought process that is either extremely foolish or intentionally dishonest. He describes the time between the end of the Cold War and the attacks of September 11 as a "sabbatical." The implication being that America’s inaction and "isolationism" were somehow responsible for the tragedy. He basically claims that if only we had been more globally assertive, we would somehow have avoided the fate of 9/11. Minding our own business is thus selfish and immoral, and such behavior has led us into our present dangerous circumstances.
This is almost perfectly out of phase with the actual truth of the situation, and any policies that are enacted as a result of this flawed perspective are doomed to failure.
As Anonymous describes so wonderfully in his book Imperial Hubris, the 9/11 attacks were a conscious response to the actions and policies of the American government in the Middle East (policies which never would have been enacted in the first place had America been following the advice of our Founders). Osama bin Laden has been very candid about exactly why he launched the operations. Muslim extremists are furious about our financing of dictatorships in the region, our intervention in various parochial conflicts involving the Muslim world, and our perceived manipulation of Middle East oil supplies for our own benefit.
While I deny that any of these excuses legitimized the murder of innocent civilians on September 11, it is nevertheless nonsensical and dishonest to suggest that American introversion and isolationism played any role whatsoever in the motivation of the terrorists. It is also nonsensical and dishonest to suggest that a more belligerent foreign policy would have somehow prevented the attacks.
The reason for this manipulation of the truth is obvious. If the American people were to come to understand that our conflict with the Muslim world revolves around government policies that are causing havoc in the Middle East, they would simply demand a cessation of the policies (and the fact that these policies are not in the best interest of the broad swath of Middle America makes the policies all the more dispensable).
But that would result in a George Washington/John Q. Adams policy of America First.
The neoconservatives needed to somehow attach their goal of world revolution to the horrors of 9/11 and to distract the American people from the truth of the situation. This inaugural address was their attempt.
My prayer is that America does not buy what the neocons are selling, because these sorts of Napoleonic crusades never end well.