Inauguration does not do justice to the exuberant celebrations of this week. Coronation would come closer. Washington ended January 20 with nine official balls. The night before George Bush gave a new spin to the phrase moveable feast by fitting in three separate banquets. He then expended as much ordnance in peppering the sky over the Capitol with fireworks as would get his occupation forces in Iraq through a whole 24 hours.
The contrasts between this uninhibited triumphalism and the real world are as wide as the American continent. One visible contrast was provided by the demonstrators camping out on the streets to protest at such extravagant waste by an administration waging its own jihad on programmes against poverty on the grounds that the federal budget cannot afford welfare. On Jan. 20, Bush gave a new spin on welfare cuts by presenting them as progress to an ownership society. The thousands of wealthy donors to the campaign to re-elect the president who turned up at those dinners adore this concept of an ownership society in which they get hefty tax cuts paid for by the poor who get their budgets cuts.
Then there is the sharp contrast between the self-indulgent hubris of the festivity and the fragile political victory which it celebrated. Bush was re-elected by the smallest margin in 100 years of those presidents who won a second term. His approval ratings last week were the lowest ever plumbed by any president at the date of his inauguration. But among the balls, banquets and bangs there was not a hint of the humility that would be the essential starting point for a process of healing the deep political division of his nation. The message of the jubilations could not be clearer.
There is the biggest contrast of all between the smug complacency of the administration over its electoral victory and the disastrous military failure of its adventure in Iraq. Since Bush was re-elected over 200 more US soldiers have been killed in Iraq. Each new day brings another 70 attacks on the occupation forces as the territory dominated by the insurgents expands and the area which the occupiers can safely patrol shrinks. The lawless background to the forthcoming elections has imposed whole new dimensions to the concept of a secret ballot. Iraq was the flagship project of the Bush administration and has turned into its greatest disaster. The inaugural jollities cannot conceal the brutal truth that they neither know how to make the occupation succeed nor how to end it without leaving an even worse position behind.
A successful search for a new strategy can only start with a recognition that the present strategy has comprehensively failed. But the Bush administration is stuffed with people who are in denial about the dire situation of their forces occupying Iraq. In the couple of months since election day, he has promoted the very people who thought conquering Iraq was a good idea. Perhaps wisely, those who crafted the inauguration speech hit the erase button any time the word Iraq crept into the text. Sinai and the Temple Mount got walk-on parts to provide biblical flavouring, but no location of contemporary controversy in the region got a mention. The only hint in the speech that there might be a war going on was a reverential reference to the sacrifice and service of US troops. Piquantly, at this point the television cameras cut away to a shot of Dick Cheney looking suitably solemn, neatly reminding the informed viewer of the humbug of a president and vice-president thanking US troops for facing dangers in Iraq which they took care to avoid for themselves in Vietnam.
Not that Iraq was unusual in being left out of the script. There were no specifics about anything else, either. Instead, we were invited to drift along with a stream of generalities, untroubled by hard problems or real-world solutions. Freedom and liberty are universal values. The founding fathers of the US constitution do not hold patent rights over those concepts. They are embedded in the roots of the separate tradition of European social democracy and we must not let Bush appropriate them to provide an ideological cover for his new imperialism.
Nor should we accept the implicit assumption of Bushâ€™s muscular foreign policy that freedom can be delivered from 38,000ft through the bomb doors. One of the rare passages of the speech when Bush appeared animated by his own text, rather than engaged in formal recitation, was when he saluted the declaration of independence and the sounding of the liberty bell. But those were celebrations of freedom from foreign dominance. He needs to grasp that other nations are just as attached to freedom from foreign intervention, including domination by America.
The president and his speechwriters have yet to confront the tension between their rhetoric about freedom, which is universally popular, and their practice of projecting US firepower, which is resented in equal measure. That explains why, on the very day when the president set forward his mission to bring liberty to the world, a poll revealed that a large majority of its inhabitants believe that he will actually make it more dangerous. The first indication of whether they are right to worry will be whether the Bush administration mediate their differences with Iran through the state department or through the US air force. â€”The Guardian