That US President George W. Bush is a fine orator and is backed by an extensive speech-writing outfit of a large nation is a long-known fact. The American president has good delivery, and can speak straight and strong, which he needed badly in the early hours of Wednesday /Moscow time/ when he made his traditional annual state of the union address.
The point is that complex situations in which American presidents have found themselves - or perhaps forced themselves - as Bush today have not occurred for a long time. "He needs to make the strongest speech in his life," was the general comment on the eve of the event.
Generally speaking, the state of the union message is a big book dealing with economics and social affairs in the US, rather than world issues of war and peace. The president's speech in Congress is an introduction, a kind of sales pitch for those who will later analyse the work of literally hundreds of experts. But even without a book it is common knowledge that the American economy is in a tight spot. Although growth has resumed, unemployment is serious, budget deficits frighteningly swollen and - most dangerous of all - there has been a drop in investments. If it goes on like this, capital might flee from America, something that has not been seen for a long time.
The world - and America - expected Bush to say key words on a war with Iraq. But there are many crucial nuances, and not only military ones, here. It is a long time since the US has planned to go to war amid an economic crisis. A crisis following a war did happen in America. But the reverse ... Even the US entry into the Second World War was separated by more than 11 years from the start of the Great Depression. The American public knows how to weigh everything in cents and dollars, in addition to human costs.
Speaking of money, the 400 billion dollars mentioned by Bush as allocated for health insurance programmes is a good sum, like many other allocations for education and other necessary things, mentioned in the speech. And these figures are, incidentally, bigger than assumed expenses on a war with Iraq.
But, on top of everything else, they increase the already dangerous budget deficit and do not guarantee a cardinal economic return to the "golden 1990s" sought eagerly by most Americans. And perhaps the most important thing said by Bush in his speech is that economic growth is the only way of shedding the enormous growth budget deficit.
But here lies the main danger. The point is that the administration has already used up all its internal reserves. And only a very big war, like the Second World War, offers a chance to turn the tables and give an impetus to growth. A small war with a small nation involves expenses. Earnings are possible in entirely different cases. And a real enemy in a major war should be not smaller rogue nations, but key US competitors on world markets, say Europe.
It may be recalled that America's prosperity in the 1990s began with a reduction of military spending /"dividends of victory in the Cold War"/ but was supported by two extensive crises - a Yugoslav one in Europe and a financial one in Asia, with money fleeing the crisis-hit regions to America. So what kind of global cataclysm is to occur now for an economy handling 10 trillion dollars a year to again start growing at a pace able to absorb multi-billion budget deficits?
Maybe the Bush administration does not plan such a global upheaval - but this is what is most feared in Europe and the rest of the world and this is why Bush's foreign policy has already nearly isolated America. He might be pardoned a local gamble, with gnashing of the teeth. But the general fear is about a crushing of economies on the scale of continents. An Iraqi war, for example, would allow the US - theoretically - to flood the world with cheap oil and make some countries by far richer and others by far poorer, but also fully alter the political and military map of the Middle East. That is why almost no one wants that war, and not only for the reason that it is manifestly devoid of legal grounds.
This is a very big game, and it explains Washington's wavering. The main reason for the wavering is not that the administration has failed to convince the world, but that the Americans themselves have started to doubt. Recent Washington Post public opinion polls show that 58 per cent of the voters want more facts testifying to Saddam's guilt. Seventy-one per cent say that if the administration has evidence, it should go public with it. Lastly, an increasing percentage of the public wants to see UN inspectors working in Iraq, rather than American soldiers dying there. If this trend is not bucked literally now, there will be no time left to launch a war before the April heat.
So the main novel feature of the Bush speech is an obvious plan of battle for American minds /other minds are understandably irrelevant/. And the instantly famous words that "the course of this nation does not depend on decisions of others" is no longer news. This we have already heard.
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