Sunday, January 23, 2005

President Bush’s inaugural speech was well-received by Americans, but many are skeptical of his sweeping goal of “ending tyranny in the world,” saying he might have overreached.

A CNN/Gallup/USA Today poll taken Thursday showed that 62 percent rated Mr. Bush’s inaugural speech as either excellent or good. But 60 percent said the United States cannot achieve the president’s stated goal of “ending tyranny in the world.” Just 35 percent thought it was possible.

Sixty-six percent of the poll’s respondents, however, agreed with the notion that U.S. policy should be to “support the growth of democratic movements” in the world.

Some of the president’s most consistent supporters said they were taken aback by the scope and ambition of the speech.

Former Ronald Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote in Friday’s Wall Street Journal that Mr. Bush’s inaugural address was “startling,” “over the top” and “left me with a bad feeling.”

“The president’s speech seemed rather heavenish,” she wrote. “It was a God-drenched speech” and his declaration to end tyranny “seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing.”

The White House tried to dispel the notion that Mr. Bush was articulating anything new.

“The speech builds on our policy,” a senior administration official told reporters on the condition of anonymity. “It states very clearly the long-term goal we should always be working to achieve.”

Former President George Bush told reporters at the White House Friday that critics were overreacting.

“People want to read a lot into it — that [this] means new aggression or newly assertive military forces,” the former president said. “That’s not what the speech is about.”

Former Reagan speechwriter Peter Robinson said Mr. Bush’s speech was “wide open for interpretation,” and to him “felt like quite an overreach.”

“There was a real absence that there was any reluctance in this grand project,” Mr. Robinson said.

Many newspapers took the president to mean more military invasions are on the horizon.

“Bush: I swear it’s Iran next,” splashed a headline in the Star of London.

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper decried Mr. Bush’s “muscular foreign policy,” and the Times of London slammed him for a mission to “end tyranny on Earth.”

London’s Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper described the speech as “pretentious and meaningless,” and called “the democracy which President Bush is heralding” to be a “bloody democracy which cost the lives of 100,000 Iraqi martyrs.”

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the president “was very careful” not to suggest further military engagements.

“Many of these objectives can be achieved through diplomacy,” Mr. Warner said. “Firm, solid, committed diplomacy.”

Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said the president’s speech was “idealistic,” but he viewed that as a strength.

“We are a nation of idealists,” he said.

Stephen Hess, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who has helped write speeches for several presidents, called Mr. Bush’s address “the quintessential American presidential inaugural speech,” and said he was puzzled at the controversy it sparked.

“As I listened to it, I heard all the themes of inaugural speeches throughout history,” he said. “There was nothing new to be shocked about.”

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