'New Bush policy not to affect ties with Pakistan'

Posted in Broader Middle East | 24-Jan-05 | Author: Anwar Iqbal| Source: dawn.com (Pakistan)

U.S. President George W. Bush delivers his inauguration speech on Capitol Hill in Washington January 20, 2005.
WASHINGTON, Jan 23: Three days after President George Bush warned non-democratic regimes that they cannot continue to hold sway for long, his aides rushed to assure America's allies that his new agenda will not affect US relations with countries like Pakistan.

In his inaugural speech delivered on Thursday, President Bush vowed to set the United States on a new course in foreign policy, linking relations with America to practising freedom and democracy.

"We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right", he declared.

"It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world," he added.

Soon after Mr Bush finished his speech, observers warned that the policies he outlined for his second term could cause more upheavals in the already volatile regions of the Middle East and the rest of the Islamic world, if implemented.

This was so far the strongest declaration of America's intention to remove governments it sees as tyrannical and oppressive, said David Gergen, a former adviser to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

"No other American president has ever committed himself in an inaugural as fully as this to that kind of aggressive foreign policy". Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who served in Mr Bush's first term, said that the president's speech was not aimed at "a foreign leader or foreign government," he was telling all autocratic leaders "you must learn to serve your people".

On Saturday, US newspapers reported that Mr Bush's inaugural speech was listened with "alarm and concern" in the Middle East and the Islamic world where many nations allied with America have non-elected and autocratic rulers.

Diplomatic circles in Washington told Dawn that Middle Eastern and Muslim missions in the US capital also spent an uneasy weekend, trying to figure out how serious the Bush administration was in taking "the fire of freedom to the darkest corners of our world," as President Bush vowed to do in his inaugural speech.

By Sunday evening, the Bush administration had fully realized the intended and unintended consequences of the speech and was busy assuring America's allies that this change would not affect them.

At a series of background briefings for American and foreign journalists, senior Bush officials made it clear that the speech will not lead to "any shift in Washington's strategy for dealing with countries like Pakistan, Egypt, China and Russia".

A senior Bush administration official said that although the records of these countries on human rights and democracy fell well short of the values Mr Bush expressed in his speech, Washington would not forget that they were "key US allies in the fight against terrorism".

At the State Department, which is responsible for implementing America's foreign policies, spokesman Richard Boucher said: "It doesn't mean we abandon our friends, but many of our friends realize it's time for them to change anyway, and they are, indeed, looking at making change within their own societies.

"We intend to stand on the side of change and try to help people move it along," he added, giving an explanation more acceptable to America's non-democratic allies. Another official said the United States could not ignore "unique histories, cultures and traditions" of other nations while trying to push for democratic changes.

One senior official spoke specifically on Pakistan. Recalling that President Musharraf too "took power in a bloodless coup in 1999," the official said that since then Pakistan had already taken some steps towards restoring democracy, such as allowing "discussions on opening the political process and holding elections in 2007."

He said Pakistan was under pressure from terrorists, and "if those kinds of Al Qaeda and Taliban types gain control in Pakistan, the result will not be a more free Pakistan but a less free Pakistan."

In interviews to US newspapers and television channels, Bush advisers said his speech was a "rhetorical institutionalization of the Bush Doctrine" but it does not tie him to "inflexible or unrealistic goals".

James Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations said Mr Bush's new agenda will make the US more vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy. "You are likely to see accusations... that (the Bush administration) has this very lofty rhetoric about the forces of freedom and then works with people like Gen Musharraf in Pakistan or the leaders of Uzbekistan or has a close relationship with President (Hosni) Mubarak (of Egypt) or the royal family in Saudi Arabia".

During a visit to the White House on Saturday, former president Bush - the president's father - said he thought his son's speech had been misunderstood. "People want to read a lot into it - 'Is this a new aggression, a new military posture?"' the former president told reporters. "That wasn't what it was about".

"I think the president would like to see the smoothest possible relationship, not just with Europe, but with Asia, South America, for heaven's sake," the former president said.