Bush's State of War Address
TFF Press Info
By Jan Oberg
30 January 2002
President Bush's State of the Union address
was great rhetorically, he was self-confident and visionary.
He comforted, I assume,
the souls of Americans. Members of Congress rose to their
feet and applauded him repeatedly and enthusiastically.
I've taken the trouble to listen to the speech, read it carefully
and analyse it. Why do I, deep down, perceive this speech
as bellicose, disrespectful of others and as boding ill
I believe we all have a duty now to try to
dialogue with Americans about the fact that some of us who
no means "anti-American" feel
increasingly alienated by what we hear and see. I, for one,
was brought up with great admiration for the United States;
my parent's generation always pointed to how Americans helped
Europe, to the Marshall Plan and the dynamism of American
society, its art, literature and music, and the miracles
of its economy. The US of the late 1950s and 1960s was a
country admired by millions at the time; it had a vision
about society and humanity that many looked up to and hoped
to become part of. It was an ideal.
President Bush's speech
in 2002, in contrast, instils fear in me. I am deeply disturbed
by it. I cannot possibly see
his leadership as an ideal. And I can see nothing fundamentally
good about a world in which the US, or any other power
for that matter, is all-dominating and refuses to be a partner
The speech lacks humility, self-criticism
and respect for difference. To an extent I find tasteless,
praises only his own nation. He emphasises that it has never
been stronger, "we" are winning the war, the American
flag flies, the might of the US military, "our" cause
is just, it has courage, compassion, resolve, calm, responsibility.
It is so good that "we can overcome evil with greater
good." Deep in the American character he finds honour
and has discovered that, especially in tragedy, God is near.
America stands for freedom and dignity of every life.
America is only good and does only good. However, those
of us who are social scientists and have seen different
countries around the world know that each and every society
has some less positive aspects. There is no recognition
of the problems that continue to haunt the American society,
for instance its rampant domestic violence. Ten times more
Americans are murdered by fellow countrymen than by the
on September 11.
Secondly, no other leader in the world would
speak in this manner about his own nation. While some of
us were brought
up with the idea that there are limits to how much you
may boast about yourself, the President seems not to have
as he is both self-satisfied and self-righteous. One must
simply wonder, whether George Bush as well as the decision-makers
and speech writers around him increasingly live in their
own world and have a distorted view of themselves and their
nation. Or do they believe that their power is so great
that by merely stating this as a mantra, people will believe
like children in madrasas learn to believe in the Koran
and ask no questions?
The concepts and actors that are absent
in the world according to Bush
I do not only miss a minimum of humility in
Bush' speech. What is also absent is every mention of, let
of gratitude toward, other important actors, including allied
organisations. Thus, George Bush does not mention NATO, the
EU, OECD, WTO or the UN. Furthermore, he does not mention
human rights or international law. There is no mention that
the US is willing to help alleviate world poverty, AIDS,
and health and sanitation problems for the world's underprivileged.
Expressions such as "basic human needs", "global
development", "global environment problems" are
not mentioned once.
We also did not hear what the Bush administration
aims to do to avoid a repetition of the mysterious fiasco
11 was to the CIA and FBI. Indeed, there is no mention
whatsoever of reforms to American society or political institutions,
except schools. There is no mention of the economic power
concentration in Multinational Corporations, MNCs, or of
the military-industrial complex which President Eisenhower
once upon a time had the courage to mention as a problem.
Finally, the word democracy is absent.
Defining the threat and the solutions on behalf of the
world, no consultation needed
Next there is the systematic mixing
of US interest with the interests of the world. Or differently
expressed, the belief
that American values are universal and where they are not
accepted, they should be. You may call this the projection,
mission or imperialist aspect of President Bush's speech.
He also announces the establishment of a new Freedom Corps
that, among other things, will "extend American compassion
throughout the world." It will "encourage development,
and education, and opportunity in the Islamic world," he
The President also introduces the idea of American
justice everywhere in the world - not that of the international
of the coalition, not that of the UN. "Our armed forces
have delivered a message now clear to every enemy of the
United States: Even 7,000 miles away, across oceans and continents,
on mountaintops and in caves, you will not escape the justice
of this nation." This means that wherever the United
States foreign policy leadership chooses to see an enemy,
the US will enforce its justice (in legal, political and
psychological terms). It can only be interpreted to mean
that US justice overrules international law as well as the
laws of enemy countries.
What threatens the world is what
threatens America. What is bad for the US is bad for the
world. America thus has
a duty and the privilege to defend others who, according
to the leadership in Washington, are also threatened. It
is the US that defines the threat, the priorities and the
means. It will, one understands, defend itself and the world
at all costs. To those who may not share President Bush's
perception and interpretation of the world, he warns, "if
they do not act, American will." There is also this
warning, "All nations should know: America will do what
is necessary to protect America and our allies from sudden
attack." The world is hereby informed; it is not consulted.
must be understood in the light of a fundamentally good
nation that never has done anything wrong, and won't, and
therefore, logically, knows what is best for others. Thus,
no need to even talk to them about it.
The world is about "good
George Bush shares with us in his speech is simple, bordering
on the primitive. It is an intellectual fraud.
There are evil people and there are good people, like in
Western films, and the US has decided who is who. Bush is
proud that America has "captured, arrested and rid the
world [killed - JO] of thousands of terrorists." He
talks about an "axis of evil" made up of North
Korea, Iraq and Iran, similar to the way Reagan referred
to the Evil Empire, the Soviet Union. We must overcome evil, "evil
is real, and it must be opposed."
Thus, there is absolute Evil and absolute Good, black and
white. There are "us and them". Terrorism has now
substituted communism. Cold War rhetoric is back. All the
complexities of the real world are reduced to this formula.
If this worldview is presented only for domestic consumption,
a European such as myself would like to believe that Americans
are too smart and well-educated to believe in such immature
perceptions of our immensely complicated world. If this speech
presents the actual, dominant worldview of the most powerful
decision-makers on earth, the Bush leadership is in need
of help from good-willed experts in a variety of fields.
Intellectual assumption underpinning American foreign policy
must rise above those of pub brawls.
nationalism, good-ness and chosen-ness
W. Bush presents an image of the exceptional United States
as standing above the rest of humanity, as a judge
and as a saviour. It is not a partner in, or a member of,
the international community. I have worked in countries
with a strong sense of nationhood, indeed nationalism, such
Croatia, Serbia, Somalia, and Japan. Their nationalisms
pale in comparison with the American nationalism cultivated
the last four months and promoted in the speech. Standing
together in crisis and loving one's country is fine, perhaps
the word for it should be patriotism. Using patriotism
to think of yourself as #1 and making everybody lower or
is nationalism or chauvinism.
America will lead by defending liberty and justice because
they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere." Either
this is an empty statement or a dangerous statement. It ignores
that these values can be interpreted and practised in different
ways. It denies the right of others to do so. But then Bush
adds, as if feeling he is going a bit too far,"We have
no intention of imposing our culture - - but America will
always stand firm."
America's chosen-ness draws its legitimacy
from two sources: from history, "History has called
America and our allies to action," and from God, "God
is near." Thus,
Bush sees the American nation, in an almost biblical sense,
as a chosen people, chosen to do good, chosen by History
and by God. But is this anything other than Christian fundamentalism
fighting other fundamentalisms?
As mentioned, the Freedom
Corps shall spread American compassion - a special - and
will encourage development, education and
opportunity in the Islamic world. Could we imagine President
Bush inviting some kind of corps from the Islamic world
to do something like that throughout America?
could spell the end of international democracy
Finally, there is the relentless drift towards
violence, the pride in that overwhelming techno-military
proudly tells the world that the US spends $30 million
per day on the war, that it is only the beginning of the
and that much more is needed. This means that what he will
send to assist the rebuilding of Afghanistan equals ten
days of the war against terrorism; so much for compassion.
US military budget will approach US $400 billion or half
- 50 per cent - of all the military spending in the world.
United States has around ten times higher military expenditures
and thus, perhaps, a twenty times greater military technological
capability than all of its designated enemies and rogue
states put together. Why is it that someone so strong is
with being threatened? Is this is a healthy or an increasingly
pathological, paranoid response? Is it psychologically
justified that September 11 leads to such measures or are
of that day merely exploited for other purposes?
States of today is history's most powerful nation. No other
actor or group of actors can persuade this single
actor to do something it does not want or abstain from
doing what it wants. American world domination is a possibility.
It militates against every conceivable definition of international
democracy. Even if totally benevolent, one actor being
to dictate its policies against the will of all others,
is closer to authoritarianism than to democracy.
My point is
not that America should not have this position in the contemporary
and the future world (at least until
other actors rise to competitive power). My point is that
no single actor, no ideology and no policy, even if lead
by a Gandhi, a Mandela or a Mother Theresa, should ever
be given that much power over all the rest.
Why Bush's United
States is dangerous
The omission of others,
self-aggrandisement, the projection of one's own values
on the rest of the world, the unreal
perceptions of the complexities of the world, exceptionalism
and the self-illusionary idea of being only good and thus
chosen by History and God. Combine these elements with
almost incomprehensibly large, technical and economic resources
devoted to long-term, world-wide war. And there you have
a formula that will inevitably lead to more harm than good
for all, including to the US itself.
If the United States leadership does not want to be with
the world, but stand over and above it, it works against
its own best interests and that of the world. World War
or utter chaos will become reality somewhere down the road
such civilisational decay.
However painful it may be, it is
indeed time for admirers and allies of the US to voice their
concerns. How can we
help the American people to understand that there are real
reasons why some of us increasingly see their great nation
as a danger, rather than as a blessing and an ideal?
Copyright © 2002 by Jan Oberg, TFF, and the News Insider
Oberg is the director of TFF. Copyright notice
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