The Toronto Star|
Bush failed to reach out to nations around globe
Richard Gwyn HOME AND AWAY
IT WAS a quintessentially American speech, wholly American in its style and rhythms from the "hug your children," as advice on how ordinary people should now behave, to the unselfconscious rah-rah of "I will not yield. I will not rest. I will not relent."
There was also the extravagant, overarching ambition so reminiscent of the commitment the U.S. once made to wage and win the Cold War and, before that, World War II. This war's purpose was not simply to punish those responsible for the Sept. 11 slaughter. It was to defeat global terrorism, itself. The terrorists would be harassed and attacked and chased from their hiding places, said President George W. Bush, until they ended up "in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies."
And he was tough, as if born to the manner of a commander-in-chief. Afghanistan's Taliban had to hand over not just terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden but also every terrorist in the country and all the infrastructure of their training camps. About this there could be and would be "no negotiation and no discussion."
As a rallying cry to his own troops, this was extremely successful. His audience at the joint meeting of Congress loved it. Commentators praised it. The public said they now knew where to go „ marching right behind Bush all the way.
The rest of the world, though, was left looking on from the sidelines. "Every nation now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists," said Bush.
That wasn't just quintessentially American, it was quintessentially imperial America. The order had come down from the Rome of the 21st century. All the allies and satraps out there have to obey, including those who doubt that so ambitious a goal can ever be reached and those who doubt their own ability to contribute more than moral support at the risk of alienating their own publics.
There were just two exceptions. Britain was praised „ we have "no truer friend." This was justified. Prime Minister Tony Blair's support has been unstinting and it matters because Britain, with lots of experience in fighting terrorists in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, can make a substantive military contribution.
(Canada got overlooked. This likewise was justified. As yet, Prime Minister Jean Chr*tien's response has been decidedly cautious.)
The other instance where Bush (more probably, his speechwriters) showed an understanding of the world beyond the U.S.'s own borders was in his extremely skilled attack on the religious justifications that the terrorists concoct to give legitimacy to their action.
The problem was not Islam, said Bush. Its teachings were "good and peaceful." The problem, instead, was that the terrorists were "traitors to their own faith „ trying, in effect, to hijack Islam, itself." They were the heirs to all the totalitarian creeds of the 20th century, fascism, Nazism, communism.
These comments were shrewd. Bush was distinguishing between Islam, itself, and its extreme, fundamentalist fringe. He was thus starting the difficult but essential process of separating the terrorists from the population base in Muslim countries they claim to represent but that, in fact, they are leading toward the kind of horrors that exist today in Afghanistan with the oppression of women, intolerance toward all other faiths and brutal, oppressive rule.
Yet while Bush declared that "civilization" was under attack from the terrorists, the tone he set was that it was only the U.S. that was under attack and that it was only the U.S. that mattered. As in, "We are in a fight for our principles" and, more explicitly, his closing peroration that, "I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people."
Here's the puzzle and the contradiction in Bush's speech. He gave himself the task of rooting out terrorism all over the world or, more exactly, terrorism that is international in its objectives and scope, rather than just an internal, domestic conflict.
Yet in this speech, the most important of the crisis and, indeed, of his entire life, Bush didn't reach out to the world to mobilize it to his side. He didn't, for example, repeat his interesting idea that the crisis could lead to "opportunities" for progress between Israel and the Palestinians, Pakistan and India.
It was a speech for, to and of Americans. That objective he achieved fully. His people are behind him all the way. But they are probably more alone than they were before he spoke. Which for a declaration of war on global terrorism really is a contradiction.