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2005-02-03

State of the Union 2005: Bush Pushes Aggressive Foreign Policy of "Spreading Democracy"

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President Bush used his 2005 State of the Union address to reinforce his inauguration theme of spreading democracy around the world. In addition to hailing the elections in Iraq and the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Bush issued warnings to Iran and Syria. We speak with Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush delivered the first State of the Union address of his second term Wednesday in which he called for a major restructuring of Social Security and a continued foreign policy theme of spreading democracy. On the domestic front, Bush also called for the renewed use of nuclear energy, a war on gangs, a constitutional ban on same sex marriage and legal reforms to protect corporations from being sued for negligence.

But it was Social Security that formed the centerpiece of the president’s address. Bush warned that Social Security was "headed toward bankruptcy" and offered a few more details on his plan to partially privatize the system. The speech kicked off a five-state campaign tour to advocate the restructuring plan in which Bush faces nearly unanimous opposition from congressional Democrats. Later in the program, we are going to host a debate on Social Security with economist and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman and Eric Engen of the American Enterprise Institute, but first we are going to focus on the foreign policy aspects of Bush’s 2005 State of the Union.

Bush used the address to reinforce his inauguration theme of spreading democracy around the world.

  • President Bush, State of the Union address, February 3, 2005:
    "The United States has no right, no desire, and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else. That is one of the main differences between us and our enemies. They seek to impose and expand an empire of oppression, in which a tiny group of brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life. Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace."

In his address, Bush devoted a large portion of comments foreign policy to Iraq. The president rejected calls for a timetable for withdrawal of the 150,000 US troops stationed there and celebrated the Iraqi elections that took place on Sunday. In one of the more dramatic moments, Bush noted the presence of an Iraqi voter in the chamber.

  • President Bush, State of the Union address, February 3, 2005:
    “One of Iraq’s leading democracy and human rights advocates is Safia Taleb al-Suhail. She says of her country, "We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost, but most of all, to the soldiers." Eleven years ago, Safia’s father was assassinated by Saddam’s intelligence service. Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country — and we are honored that she is with us tonight."

Bush hailed the recent elections in the Palestinian Occupied territories and called on Congress to give the Palestinians 350 million dollars. His comments came as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced he would meet with the new Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas next week in Egypt.

  • President Bush, State of the Union address, February 3, 2005:
    "The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, is within reach — and America will help them achieve that goal."

In his address, President Bush also issued warnings to Iran and Syria.

  • President Bush, State of the Union address, February 3, 2005:
    "To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act — and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom. Today, Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror — pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing, and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."
  • Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, specializing in Middle East and United Nations issues. She is the author of the book "Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: First we’re going to look at foreign policy aspects of the Bush address. He used his speech to reinforce his inauguration theme of spreading democracy around the world.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States has no right, no desire, and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else. That is one — that is one of the main differences between us and our enemies. They seek to impose and expand an empire of oppression in which a tiny group of brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life. Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom will lead to peace.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In this address, the President devoted a large portion of his comments to foreign policy in Iraq. He rejected calls for a timetable for withdrawal of 150,000 U.S. troops stationed there and celebrated the Iraqi elections that took place on Sunday. In one of the more dramatic moments, Bush noted the presence of an Iraqi voter in the chamber.

GEORGE W. BUSH: One of Iraq’s leading democracy and human rights advocates is Safia Taleb al-Suhail. She says of her country, "We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost, but most of all, to the soldiers." 11 years ago, Safia’s father was assassinated by Saddam’s intelligence service. Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country, and we are honored that she is with us tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush in his State of the Union address last night. We turn now to Phyllis Bennis with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. Welcome, Phyllis.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Thanks, Amy. Good to be with you both.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to focus with you on foreign policy. Later we’ll talk about Social Security. What did you make of President Bush’s address?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, foreign policy was clearly not the major substantive part of his address. He used all of his very popular inauguration rhetoric of freedom and liberty, the word count this time, freedom 20 times, liberty seven times. A few down from the use of those same words during his inauguration speech, but still way up there. The Iraqi election, as you’ve indicated, was used very much as a symbol to gain applause, to gain evidence that U.S. policy in Iraq is working. As Juan mentioned, there was no plan, in fact an explicit rejection of any plan, for withdrawal of the troops or even setting a time table for withdrawal, no acknowledgement that the presence of the U.S. troops, the U.S. occupation itself is the problem in Iraq rather than the solution. No mention of the U.S. bases, the 14 permanent bases that are being built. No mention of the continuing U.S. control in Iraq that continues after the elections, and will continue throughout the creation of an Iraqi parliament and assembly, those things including the transitional laws imposed by Paul Bremer which are still in place, the control of the huge amounts — billions of dollars of money, that U.S. forces control, and will be used as essentially a slush fund for that assembly. So, there was very little detail in the discussion of Iraq.

On the question of the broader sort of regional plan, the expansion of liberty throughout the Middle East region, there was nothing. There was no detail. There was a quiet request to key U.S. allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that they might want to use this as a moment to increase their democratic tendencies, major threats to Syria and Iran as ostensibly the supporters of terrorism in the region. The only details, however, had to do with the Israel-Palestine issue. There was very little detail there as well. The only specific was the mention of a Bush administration request to Congress for $350 million to assist the Palestinians in their security and political development towards creating a democratic state. What we learned today is at least $80 million of that, perhaps more, will actually go to Israel to pay for high security gates in the apartheid wall that is chewing up huge components of the West Bank and the wall that will surround Gaza.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis, let’s go for a moment to the portion of the speech where President Bush referred to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace is within reach. And America will help them achieve that goal.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Again, no detail about the real issue here, which is the Israeli occupation, the word occupation, of course, never existed in the speech. There was nothing even about Israeli responsibilities that they agreed to under the so-called roadmap under U.S. sponsorship in which Israel agreed to freeze settlements, to dismantle all settlements established after the year 2000, nothing of that. None of those things, of course, have been accomplished, and there was no mention of those obligations in Bush’s speech. We should also note here, Amy, I think it’s very important, what was missing from the speech. There was no mention of Africa. There was no mention of the global crises, including AIDS, including development issues. There was not even a mention of the tsunami victims and what remains in the crisis in South Asia following the tsunami. What we got, instead, was a great deal of new rhetoric. Some of the same words, freedom and liberty, we heard this time about advances of freedom, landmarks in liberty. We also heard about the empire of oppression as the new replacement apparently for the axis of evil. So, we’re hearing a new level of rhetoric. What was very disturbing, I found, in looking at the two parts of the speech, was that in the domestic section of the speech, there were many moments when almost all of the democrats and indeed some republicans actually sat out the massive applause waves at various points, but when it came to the foreign policy side, the democrats were on their feet in standing ovations throughout the speech, almost indistinguishable from the republicans. That was a very depressing recognition.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Phyllis, also in terms of what your mentioning of the things that he left out, clearly, as you said, not only Africa was not talked about, and of course, Latin America, which still remains the main source of profit and income for American corporations around the world, which has been undergoing an enormous transformation politically over the last few years and many nations rejecting the neo-liberal approach of the U.S. government. Not a single mention of that, not a mention of China in the issue of democracy, and of the democratization and human rights, and China playing such a major role in the world, what U.S. policy will be toward China in the future, as well.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Absolutely. There were many, many things missing here. It was clear that substance was not the goal of the foreign policy section of this speech. This was about rhetoric. This was about gaining popular support. This was setting the stage for Bush’s new campaign effort on Social Security, where he wants to have at his back a broad level of support for the goal of freedom and independence that he can kind of point to and say we’re doing that abroad. Now at home, here’s the work we have to do. I think that it was aimed at avoiding any issues that would require serious changes in U.S. policy. For example, towards Africa, for example, towards the newly democratic countries where there is, as you say, Juan, real democracy brewing in Latin America, where we may have to re-evaluate policies towards China, towards Russia, towards the United Nations. None of these were on the agenda. There was no attempt to use this speech to actually outline new political goals in the foreign policy arena. It was more of the same, shaped by a new level of rhetoric, and announced in the context of the new announcement that Elliot Abrams is going to emerge as the old criminal of Iran-Contra days is now going to be the Deputy National Security Adviser in the Bush administration, one of the highest ranking positions around. His rehabilitation after years of being dismissed as a criminal for lying to congress represents in a sense the punctuation mark to the foreign policy section of the speech last night.

AMY GOODMAN: Interesting that he was involved with the Iran-Contra scandal. When we come back from our break, Phyllis Bennis, we want to ask you about Iran and Syria. [break]

GEORGE W. BUSH: To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory and parts of Lebanon to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed, and we are applying the Syrian Accountability Act, and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom. Today, Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror, pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight, as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush in his inauguration address on Wednesday night. Phyllis Bennis, finally, on Iran and Syria, the warnings.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: The warnings were relatively muted in this speech. The Syrian Accountability Act was referred to. There was the broad question, we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror, open the door to freedom. Of course, Bush is not so eager to push for democratization in Syria, not least because a large proportion of the democratic activists in Syria are Islamists who would not be much in favor with the Bush agenda. So, it was left a little bit vague. It was sort of a — again, a rhetorical attack on Syria. Mainly the problem being that the throwing open of the Iraqi borders at the time of the U.S. invasion led to a wide range of traffic back and forth between Syria and Iraq, something that the U.S. occupation was clearly responsible for. But this is not something that was referred to specifically, and there were no further direct threats against Syria. On the question of Iran, identifying Iran first as the world’s primary state sponsor of terror, the main part of Bush’s response to that was to reassert the goal of the U.S. in working with European allies who are, of course, seeking a diplomatic rather than military solution to Iran’s alleged efforts to create nuclear weapons, but he did add in this line as a statement supposedly to the Iranian people, "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you." Now, this raises, of course, the real question of regime change. With the information that has recently come out from Sy Hersh and others about the efforts the U.S. has undertaken in Iran, that there are already special operations forces perhaps of American troops, perhaps of American-supported puppet troops acting on their behalf inside Iran doing the kind of investigation, the kind of covert operations that would prepare for an attack on either alleged Iranian nuclear facilities, either by the United States or Israel, or perhaps a larger ground or air attack on Iran. This cannot be taken lightly, the fact that he added in — that Bush added in in his speech this very direct statement to the Iranian — the Iranian people, as you stand for your own liberty, we stand with you. That’s a rather direct threat to Iran, that regime change remains an option for the U.S., despite the current willingness to let the Europeans take the lead in a negotiated solution with Iran.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, I want to thank you very much for being with us, of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

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