AXIS OF UNFREEDOM REPLACES AXIS OF EVIL


20.09.06

NEW YORK. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev)

The 61st UN General Assembly began in New York Tuesday with striking news, if not a sensation.
I am referring to the speech made by U.S. President George W. Bush. He addressed the forum after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, setting the tune in the Assembly and global politics for the year ahead.
In fact, even when the order of speakers is different, it is the address by the U.S. president that is expected to be the key event at that main conference of the world’s diplomats. In the past three or four years, Bush was expected to hint at or to announce a forthcoming war, or speak about the threat of war.
Experienced diplomats said the war against Iraq was inevitable after Bush’s UN address in 2002, six months before it began. Then the U.S. president made meaningful statements about Iran, which were perceived as an open threat, if not a warning of an impending war. Therefore, international politics after Bush’s speeches was reduced to the world powers’ attempts to make the right decision. Should they join the Untied States or try to prevent a war, put a spoke in Washington’s wheel or, at worst, start preparing to withdraw from a war?
This year, Bush did not speak of war. That marked absence of the military note from the presidential speech is seen as proof that the world has changed again and diplomats will have to adjust to this new situation. They should prepare to see the end of an age when the Untied States believed in its omnipotence, or at least tried to make other states believe in it.
The reasons for the change are insignificant. The insiders’ explanation is that Bush is trying to save the Republican Party from defeat at the forthcoming elections, because any candidates to the Senate or the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress who dare mention their support of war, notably the Iraq war, are mercilessly weeded out. The process is also underway in the Democratic Party.
However, leaders use the UN dais to address the world. This year Bush made many predictable statements and some quite unexpected ones in the UN.
In fact, his speech was one big address to the peoples of the Middle East, one after another, with criticism of their governments and one simple and very American idea. He implied that religious extremism made them victims of military conflicts primarily waged against the Untied States and its allies, such as Israel, and that this happened because the governments of these countries waged the wrong policy, depriving their people of civil liberties.
Bush mentioned Syria, Iran, Lebanon and Palestine in this connection, and said that the people of Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle East countries had become free. It sounded hugely different from his previous speeches about “the axis of evil.” I would say that he spoke about “an axis of unfreedom.”
Bush did not threaten Middle East governments with a war; he promised the region’s people to “stand with the moderates and reformers (…) who are working for change across the Middle East.”
True, it is undiplomatic to address the people of foreign states with statements spearheaded against their governments. The United States is almost the only country in the world whose leader, members of government, or diplomats consider such statements admissible and possible. But still, this is better than Bush’s previous militant addresses, if only because this approach permits a response to Bush, including in the UN as a place where key world problems are discussed. In fact, the U.S. is criticized at each General Assembly, although the speakers do not point their finger at it but speak about “a great power.”
It would be wrong to say that all criticisms of the Untied States were true. Likewise, it cannot be said that the analysis of the internal situation in some Middle East countries “according to Bush” is correct, though words about some “achievements” in Iraq and Afghanistan sound disturbing. But then, there is always something to debate, provided the discussion is held on equal terms, as it happened in the UN.
There was a phrase in Bush’s address that could have been overlooked, if not for The New York Times, which quoted an anonymous member of the administration on the day when Bush spoke. The official was asked what the president would talk about in the UN. He replied that he would say that nations moved to freedom in different ways depending on the situation and political culture.
Here is what Bush said: “Every nation that travels the road to freedom moves at a different pace, and the democracies they build will reflect their own culture and traditions. But the destination is the same: A free society where people live at peace with each other and at peace with the world.”
The truth is that this phrase could have been said by Russian President Vladimir Putin – who has said something of this kind – or Chinese leader Hu Jintao, or many other leaders.
The key world capitals have apparently noted this change in Bush’s tone and will try to encourage him to carry on. The United States may find that it has more friends today than it had yesterday. And it does not matter if the change is described as the nascent era of multipolarity, new global partnership, or in some other words. -0-