President's grand speech on freedom rings hollow

THE BALTIMORE SUN

THAT WAS A marvelous speech President Bush made last week as he took the oath office for a second term. Truly marvelous. It was so grand I can still hear freedom ringing in my ears.

Why the oppressed and suppressed people of the world did not rise up, throw off their shackles and depose the tyrants who rule them is beyond me.

Could it be because the people whose tyrant was last overthrown - the people of Iraq, that is - are still reeling from the consequences? Or could it be that we have a credibility problem when it comes to people who are ruled by "leaders of governments with long habits of control," as the president put it?

"Start on this journey of progress and justice and America will walk at your side," the president exhorted those guys with long habits of control.

Why, having been shown the light and the true path to glory and friendship with America, did the people of Iran not throw over the mullahs and give up a loud cheer to welcome Hollywood, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Halliburton into their land?

Could it be that they don't trust us any more than we trust them?

Why did Hosni Mubarak, the president-for-life of Egypt, who hasn't held a truly free election in 2 1/2 decades, not show any sign of apprehension that his time is up? Did President Bush threaten to stop sending Egypt billions of dollars a year so long as the Mubarak regime continues the sort of political repression that makes people hate him, and hate us for putting up with him? No, and I bet he doesn't.

And what of our friend King Abdullah II of Jordan, also sustained by a healthy dollop of American taxpayers' money? Will he be told to give up the habit of control established long ago by his father? Nope.

And how about those Kuwaitis, the ones who were making all that noise about democracy while America went to war to save their little emirate from Saddam Hussein in 1991 while the wealthiest of them sat in the spas of Europe? Are they going to give up control for the sake of democracy? I dare say not.

Or the House of Saud, which has a huge responsibility for the state of affairs in the Middle East and now the rest of the world. Will the Saudi royals take time from buying glitzy hotels in London to let their people express themselves?

Highly unlikely. The House of Saud will fight political reform to the death - everyone's but theirs, that is.

This month, more than a dozen Saudi citizens who protested against their rulers got a taste of just how disinclined the House of Saud is toward democracy and free speech.

Fourteen men and a woman who demonstrated against the authorities were sentenced to prison terms and lashings.

Did the Bush administration hear of this and threaten not to buy any more oil from Saudi Arabia? Would the administration encourage the people who demonstrated and were so severely punished? Nope. Something may have - should have - been said privately, but there was no uproar of indignation.

The list goes on. Pakistan, America's important ally in the war on terror, is not a free and democratic state, and no one will be threatening President Pervez Musharraf with sanctions because of it.

China, the biggest nation in the world still living under a nominally communist dictatorship, certainly will not be sanctioned for the abuses the leadership inflicts on its people.

The speech President Bush made last week could have been made by any president of the United States in the last century - and in one way or another it has, and with more credibility.

Authoritarian rulers the Bush administration does not like - such as the rulers of Iran - have plenty to worry about. Authoritarian rulers the Bush administration gets along with don't have much to worry about at all.

G. Jefferson Price III is a former editor and foreign correspondent for The Sun.

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