The crusader


THE BOLD and bellicose rhetoric of President Bush's second inaugural address yesterday called forth an image of the commander in chief as an armored knight on horseback, waving his righteous sword and sounding the battle cry against the enemies of freedom.

In a message clearly crafted less for Americans than for a global audience, Mr. Bush vastly expanded the theater of his pre-emptive war on tyranny worldwide.

"We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands," he said. "So 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."

Considered in a vacuum, the words are benign, the goals laudable. Measured against the backdrop of the U.S. "liberation" of Iraq, they seem to commit the nation to a course it doesn't have the will or wherewithal to follow.

Polls show Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the outcome in Iraq, amid many indications that the military venture -- so costly in lives and treasure -- has not lessened the threat to safety and liberty at home but increased it substantially.

The country is hardly in a mood to take on more such ventures. What's more, the American military and the federal treasury are stretched to their limits and beyond.

"This is not primarily the task of arms," Mr. Bush explained, but one of wielding America's "considerable" influence to promote human rights.

"All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors," he said. That could be a very big promise.

Cheering on from the sidelines of velvet revolutions like those in Ukraine and Georgia is one thing; toppling dictators like Saddam Hussein is quite another.

Of course, there's a good chance Mr. Bush's brief address is simply empty talk, an expression of principles and ideals not intended to be taken too literally.

Perhaps the nicest moment came when Mr. Bush got down off his war horse, put his armor aside and spoke off the cuff to legislative leaders at a Capitol luncheon.

"I'm looking forward to putting my heart and soul into this job for four more years," he told them. "Together, we can make this great nation of ours a safer place, and a freer place, and a better place for all our fellow citizens."

That sounds more like a goal within reach.

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