Actions Speak Louder Than Words: A Response to the President’s Speech
In London this morning, President George W. Bush defended the administration’s policies on Iraq and the war on terrorism. While his speech deftly combined gravity and humor, a close examination shows that his actions fail to match his rhetoric:
“I’ve been here only a short time, but I’ve noticed the tradition of free speech exercised with enthusiasm is alive and well here in London. We have that at home too.”
• President Bush’s planned speech to Parliament was cancelled due to fears that members might boycott or heckle in protest to his policies. All of the usual public appearances associated with a state visit have been scrapped, and media on both sides of the Atlantic have complained that neither the White House nor Downing Street have provided substantive details of the visit.
• Both at home and abroad, Administration officials have dismissed critics of their policies as “unpatriotic” and “anti-American.” The Administration banned news coverage and photography of killed soldiers on all military bases. It also forbids photos of dead soldiers’ coffins at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
• A report by Reporters Without Borders ranked the United States 31st in a global study of 164 countries in freedom of the press at home and “135th for its behavior beyond its borders.” The low ranking specifically reflected the treatment of foreign and Iraqi reporters by U.S. troops.
“By promoting development and fighting famine and AIDS and other diseases, we’re fulfilling our moral duties as well as encouraging stability and building a firmer basis for democratic institutions.”
• The only way to achieve long-term stability is to get at the root causes of terrorism, including socioeconomic conditions and religious fanaticism. The Bush Administration has advanced worthy ideas on this front but has failed to deliver its promises on development aid and public diplomacy.
• The President’s Millennium Challenge Account – originally announced as a $5 billion dollar increase over the coming three years but likely to be funded at only $650 million next year – may increase foreign aid funding but will do nothing to lift up the failing states referenced by the President, as these new monies are targeted exclusively for the developing world’s “good performers.”
• Although he has increased substantially U.S. assistance to the global fight against HIV/AIDS, only a small percentage of these funds will go through the international Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria. Furthermore, the President’s announcement of his plan to increase international AIDS funding during his State of the Union was not preceded by a sustained effort to leverage similar increases from other like-minded donor nations, but was instead followed by his berating of European donors at the G8 summit for being stingy.
• Even with the President’s new initiatives, the U.S. still fails to rank in the world’s top ten in terms of percentage of GDP going to foreign aid and development. According to an index released by the Center for Global Development and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the U.S. ranked 20th out of the world’s 21 wealthiest countries for its policies aimed at reducing poverty in poor countries.
• A report released in October by a State Department Advisory Commission led by former Ambassador Edward Djerjerian called for “an immediate end to the absurd and dangerous underfunding of public diplomacy in a time of peril.” The report also found that the U.S. public diplomacy infrastructure faced significant problems in organization, staffing, and training. As a result, the State Department has fewer than 60 employees fluent in Arabic and only five have the skills to go toe-to-toe with commentators on Middle Eastern television program.
“If the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation and anger and violence for export… We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine in the past have been willing to make a bargain to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability… Tyranny is never benign to its victims and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found.”
• Allowing some countries — allies in the war on terrorism or important oil producing partners — leeway to behave repressively will discredit the Administration’s commitment to democracy. Just last week, the President praised the democratic advances of Saudi Arabia and Egypt — two strategically-important allies often criticized for their repressive ways.
• The U.S. should promote democracy through the example of openness, transparency, and fair treatment. In Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority has refused to disclose how it spends both Iraqi and American funds, and secrecy and misperception continue to surround the process of awarding contracts.
“A forward strategy of freedom must also apply to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a difficult period in a part of the world that has known many. Yet our commitment remains firm.”
• The Administration’s initiatives in the Arab-Israeli conflict have stalled. As a result of ineffective U.S. pressure, neither the Israelis nor Palestinians ever took more than token steps to fulfill the obligations set out in the ambitious U.S-backed “road map.” Despite being heavily promoted by President Bush, Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas resigned in September saying in part that he had been thwarted by American inaction. As a result, the “road map” is dead, Special Envoy John Wolf remains in Washington, and there is still no clear strategy for achieving the vision the President has laid out.
To read Part One of the American Progress response to the President’s speech, click here.