By Phyllis Bennis
Institute for Policy Studies
20 January 2005

** The U.S. drive towards empire will be strengthened, focusing on "freedom" and "liberty."

** Bush's speech signals that the rest of the world had better toe the U.S. line or face U.S. wrath.

** Future U.S. military attacks will be justified as necessary to protect American freedom and liberty, and explained as bringing freedom and liberty to oppressed people around the world.

Bush's second inaugural speech was designed to signal to the U.S. and to the rest of the world that the drive towards empire that shaped his first four years will be consolidated and strengthened in the second term, driven by a new focus on "the force of human freedom."

While Bush's rhetorical reference to the "untamed fire of freedom" will likely be the headline and centerpiece of press attention, probably the most important single line in his speech was his statement that "division among free nations is a goal of freedom's enemies." The statement is the second-term version of his infamous "you're either with us or with the terrorists" line, signalling that his global coalition of the coerced had better toe the line.

We can anticipate that references to "freedom" and "liberty" will be both the chosen rationale and the claimed result of military attacks, invasions and occupations in the next four years. Bush will continue to link "liberty" for Americans at home with "the success of liberty in other lands," justifying unilateral military aggression as legitimate because its aim is to insure "the success of liberty in our land."

The absolutism of the Bush administration's claim of righteousness has grown even stronger. Bush spoke in words of absolute certainty: "oppression is always wrong; freedom is eternally right." But who is oppressed, what is freedom, are subjects for the White House, not for global citizens. The Bush definition takes no account of the actual views of those living somewhere deemed subject to his "goal of ending tyranny in our world." The view of increasing number of Iraqis - that their violent, impoverished, repressive, socially corrosive world of U.S. military occupation is actually less secure, more dangerous and generally worse than their lives under Saddam Hussein - has no place in Bush's manichean world.

Bush's speech described a world of endless military intervention, against "outlaw regimes," and in support of "all who live in tyranny and hopelessness." The U.S. "will not excuse oppressors," he said, and addressing himself to those who live under oppression, "when you stand for liberty we stand with you." Bush invoked the model of the U.S. military as a heroic global Spiderman, with the 82nd Airborne webswinging across the globe wherever brave men and women "stand for liberty." The reality, of course, is far different. The next four years is as unlikely to see serious diplomatic or economic pressure (let alone military) on such repressive allies as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Pakistan as were the last four. It does mean that military threats against governments deemed "outlaw regimes" (which according to Condoleezza Rice include Cuba, Myanmar, Iran, North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe) or those judged "oppressors" will have an easier, automatic justification: liberty and freedom.

The peace movement - both in the U.S. and globally - now faces the obligation of reclaiming the fight for freedom and liberty as our own. We must redefine those concepts away from Bush's xenophobic rhetoric aimed at justifying invasion and occupation, and instead return the goals of real freedom and real liberty - our goals - to their place at the heart of our struggle for peace and justice.

Informant: Hany Khalil


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