I'm certainly no Bush partisan, but objectively speaking, that was the best speech of his presidency and one of the best speeches I've heard from a president in modern times. Simply beautifully crafted, elegantly written-- hat's off to the team who put that piece of prose together. The lines which stand out most to me:
* You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs.
* In America's ideal of freedom, the exercise of rights is ennobled by service, and mercy, and a heart for the week. Liberty does not mean independence from one another. Our nation relies on men and women who look after a neighbor and surround the lost with love.
*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.
That's really something, isn't it?
It's also an incredibly ambitious speech. Bush said, for instance, that "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: the United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for liberty, we will stand with you." If you live in Sudan or China or Saudi Arabia, this signals an important change in U.S. policy, no?
Bush also came closer to naming radical Islamism as the ultimate enemy than he has in the past, alluding to it, and the Arab world as a place "prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder." He's not there yet, but it's a start.
If the speech had a deficiency, it came in the passage about spreading freedom to other societies: "Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen . . . and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. . . . America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice . . ."
The president is right in all of this, but I can't help wondering, What if, given the freedom to choose, people in Iraq or other Middle Eastern states, choose Islamism and to turn further away from the West? We've seen this in Kuwait, where democratic reforms produced a parliament more hostile to women's rights and to Western nations than the monarchy was. We all hope that liberty, tolerance, and a yearning for the rule of law (and not sharia) are universal values, but isn't there some evidence to the contrary?
This is a big question, and one which will be settled by events, so let's not dwell on it here. Instead, it's important to give credit where it is due. President Bush gave a stirring, ennobling speech at his second inauguration. This is a moment during which all Americans can be proud.
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