Friday, July 13, 2007

Rhetoric check: Bush's relentless Wilsonian refrain

Guest post by Jonathan Riehl.

At the beginning of his remarks in Ohio last week President Bush declared he was going to be paying closer attention to his war rhetoric: “We’ve got to be careful about our language here--and I am.” What followed, however, revealed a severe disconnect.

Even as he went out of his way to semi-acknowledge letdowns over the course of the Iraq conflict, Bush repeatedly returned to the utopian refrains that marked his controversial 2005 inaugural address. In fact, his Ohio remarks reveal that Bush considers political or military context irrelevant to his ideological convictions. Whatever has happened “on the ground” since the 2005 swearing-in, Bush still talks of the situation in the same absolute terms.

The 2005 speech was so brazen that it led old-guard conservatives like former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan and National Review’s founding publisher William Rusher to suggest Bush had succumbed to Wilsonian, and/or neo-conservative, delusions of grandeur.

In 2005 Bush said this: “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.” The echo from Wilson’s justification for World War I was unmistakable—the War To End All Wars, so on forth.

Bush had out-Wilsoned Wilson. “In proclaiming it America's mission to spread democracy all over the world, President Bush has gone far beyond the traditional policy of the Republican Party,” Rusher wrote, “and even beyond the ambitious goal of Woodrow Wilson, which was (you will recall) to ‘make the world safe for democracy.’”

Other conservatives returned to this Wilsonian critique of Bush in light of the failure of the democratic election in Palestine to produce an outcome favorable to the United States.

“Hamas’ victory should force Republicans here to ask themselves: Do they really want to become the party of Wilson's foreign policy,” wrote Human Events editor Terry Jeffrey.

Last week Bush was still at it. Whatever may have changed “on the ground” over the past two and a half years—facts Bush interjected at times into his town hall-style forum in Ohio—his ironclad ideological perspective has not been affected. Bush clings to his universalisms regardless of context, with explicit faith-based claims. His rhetoric reveals as much without question. Some comparisons:

Last week, discussing Iraq:

“I've got great faith in the power of liberty to transform the world for the sake of peace. And the fundamental question facing our country is, will we keep that faith?”

“I believe in the universality of freedom.”

“Most Muslim mothers want their children to grow up in peace; they’re just like mothers in the United States. There’s some universal characteristics of people.”

“I'm such a strong believer in advocating the march of democracy in the Middle East.”

Liberty prevails every time . . . it’s in our interest not to lose faith in certain fundamental values.”

And in 2005:

“There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom.”

“Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul.”

“We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right.”

“Ideals of justice and conduct that are the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

Or, as Woodrow W. Wilson said 90 years ago:

“The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. . . . We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them.”

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