Let that eagle soar

Topics: War Room,

There’s been plenty of Monday-morning quarterbacking regarding President Bush’s lofty inaugural speech. The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin (also a Salon contributor) has a good roundup — the consensus appears to be that Bush overreached big time with all the fiery, stratospheric oratory focused on foreign policy.

“The initial reaction to President Bush’s second inaugural speech, in which he vowed to end tyranny everywhere, was that it sounded awfully ambitious,” Froomkin writes. “But now comes word from the White House that Bush wasn’t actually setting out a new agenda at all. He was simply describing what his approach has been all along. And that has invited additional concerns, among them that revisionism may be pushing aside reality checking in the Bush White House.

“In hindsight, the White House is apparently suggesting, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq weren’t so much about bringing Osama bin Laden to justice and destroying Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. They were about lighting the flame of freedom.

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“And in spite of the mixed success in both countries, Bush continues to express unfaltering confidence in his world view.”

Among others, the New York Times’ David Sanger and Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria take note of the striking gap between Bush’s soaring rhetoric and the reality on the ground.

“While Bush has been visionary in his goals, he has not provided much practical wisdom on how to attain them in a complex world,” Zakaria writes. “This lack of attention to the long, hard slog of actually promoting democracy might explain why things have gone so poorly in the most important practical application of the Bush Doctrine so far — Iraq. Convinced that bringing freedom to a country meant simply getting rid of the tyrant, the Bush administration seems to have done virtually no serious postwar planning to keep law and order, let alone to build the institutions of a democratic state.”

The Bush problem of rhetoric vs. reality was on the minds of some staunch conservatives, too.

“The speech did not deal with specifics — 9/11, terrorism, particular alliances, Iraq. It was, instead, assertively abstract,” writes the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan, herself a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan. “Ending tyranny in the world? Well that’s an ambition, and if you’re going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn’t expect we’re going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it’s earth.”

The speech led Noonan to wonder if the Bush White House didn’t “have a case of what I have called in the past ‘mission inebriation.’ A sense that there are few legitimate boundaries to the desires born in the goodness of their good hearts. One wonders if they shouldn’t ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded. The most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not.”

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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