President George W. Bush's historic second inaugural speech sparked an all-too-predictable reaction.
The president failed to "reach out" and "heal our divisions." "His first priority is clearly the war on terrorism," said former White House aide David Gergen, "and an expansive, aggressive war on terrorism. His second priority is domestic legislation, and third, and oh, by the way, he is trying to heal the divisions in the country -- very different from what we thought."
What? A wartime president considers prosecution of the war his No. 1 priority? The president gave an eloquent and forceful restatement of the Bush doctrine -- harboring or protecting terrorists make you as guilty as the terrorists themselves. The president also told the haters in the Arab world to blame their corrupt, brutal, suppressive, politically and economically un-free societies for their backwardness and low standard of living.
Recall that the United Nations commissioned Arab scholars and analysts to publish the Arab Human Development Report. What causes the backwardness, the scholars wondered, of 22 Arab states, covering nearly 300 million people? Their conclusion? Of all world regions, the Arab countries scored the lowest in freedom, media independence, civil liberties, political process and political rights. The report found 65 million illiterate adults. Half of Arab women still cannot read or write. Ten million children between 6 and 15 years of age are not in school. The report points to a "severe shortage" of new writing. In the last 1,000 years, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in just one year. Only 1.2 percent of the population uses a computer, and only half of those access the Internet. In short, the peoples of these countries lack economic and political freedom.
Arab leaders point to America's relationship with Israel as proof of America meddling to undermine the religion of Islam. In one of his fatwas, Osama bin Laden attacked America for its support of corrupt regimes, like the House of Saud and the former Shah of Iran. But did Palestinians enjoy freedom when Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip or when Jordan controlled the West Bank?
According to Caroline Glick, deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, the Palestinian Authority in the last decade has received more money per capita, in constant dollars, than did Western Europe under the Marshall Plan. As for the shah, did his replacement by the Ayatollah Khomeini advance the cause of peace, freedom and liberty for the Iranians?
The European reaction to the president's "fire of freedom" inaugural address tells us a great deal about Europe's failure to grasp the stakes in this War on Terror. An editorial in the London Daily Telegraph said, "Now comes the hard part. President George W. Bush's elegy to freedom yesterday and his vision of it flowering around the world fitted into the long tradition of inaugural speeches that blend America's optimism with smugness about the reach and benefits of its power."
Berlin's Die Tageszeitung said, "If you take seriously what Bush said before and during his inaugural address, you will really dread this U.S. government. . . . The message of yesterday's big -- and many U.S. citizens thought too big -- and carefully staged inauguration is clear: The continuity from his first term will remain, but at the same time this U.S. government will have more sense of mission and do whatever it thinks is right and won't have anybody else disturb it. . . . The horror is justified."
France's Le Monde lamented, "We can fear that, in the eyes of Mr. Bush, the criteria for tyranny would essentially be hostility toward the United States and that he would be inclined to close his eyes to the democratic failings of regimes that show cooperativeness...The outcome of his activism abroad makes us fear similar traumas at home."
A London-based Muslim singer -- also known as the Muslim Madonna -- receives death threats for showing some skin in a video. America's fault? The French passed a law banning the wearing of religious clothing -- including Arab girls' head scarves -- for which the country received threats from Arab extremists. America's fault? In Holland, Islamic thugs killed a filmmaker who made a film critical of Islam and the abuse of Muslim women. America's fault?
It's always interesting getting a human rights lecture from Europe, a continent -- over the centuries -- riddled with war, economic exploitation and imperialism.
Democracies tend not to attack each other. The future of Iraq, the defense of America, and a successful prosecution of the War on Terror mean this: repressive, brutal, un-free, non-transparent governments must fall. A free Iraq threatens to ignite what the president called, in this most historic inaugural address, the "fire of freedom."