Bush's preachy State of the Union.

Bush's preachy State of the Union.

Bush's preachy State of the Union.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Jan. 30 2003 6:32 PM

Bush Bash

Serious but unconvincing was the foreign press's verdict on President Bush's State of the Nation address Tuesday. The Financial Times said the "uneasy" address was delivered in "a sombre tone that matched the national mood," while Barcelona's La Vanguardia described his approach as "deliberately intimate … without any great theatrics." A columnist in Canada's Globe and Mail observed that Bush "trudged through" the first half of the speech concerning domestic issues, but when he got to the sections on Iraq and terrorism, "his voice grew stronger, his gestures more emphatic and his delivery more assured. His jaw set in resolve, his eyes wet with the passion of the moment, he came to his peroration with all the fervour of a Baptist preacher."

An op-ed in Britain's Guardian said the speech highlighted the differences between the old and new worlds: "To European ears, much of what Bush says sounds archaic. There are the constant references to good and evil. There's the biblical language. … Old Europe, as Donald Rumsfeld calls us, doesn't take religion too seriously these days: Bush's Washington is fundamentalist." Canada's National Post dismissed such attitudes when it declared, "Like Mr. Reagan Mr. Bush is a man who truly believes that something called evil exists in this world, and needs to be fought. That may make many Canadians titter. But for most of us, it is nothing less than the essence of true leadership."

Still, the president made few converts. Britain's Independent said Bush "added little to the existing charge-sheet against Saddam." Hong Kong's South China Morning Post concluded: "Bush has still not presented an adequate case for the overthrow of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. His State of the Union address presented war as a necessity, but no compelling evidence was offered." The editorial worried about the practicalities of removing a foreign dictator: "The economic resources and political will simply do not exist for countries to be torn down and rebuilt. The world's nations—including the United States—have enough problems of their own." The Sydney Morning Herald also complained that Bush had brought nothing new to the table to persuade the rest of the world that Saddam Hussein presented an imminent danger: "If wickedness and transgression were obvious for some time, what is the imperative for prompt invasion? Have diplomacy or international containment been exhausted? Why should Iraq be separated from the rest of the world's brutal regimes for exclusive punishment?"

Advertisement

The Times of London said Bush had left "the hard bit" to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who will make a special presentation to the U.N. Security Council Feb. 5. (La Vanguardia speculated that Powell's bombshell will include photographs of Iraqi troops removing large quantities of material from sites before they were inspected.) The Financial Times concluded that if Powell's proof is convincing, "the way forward for Mr Bush becomes a lot clearer. If it is less than conclusive, it will be an unsettled world, and an uneasy America that goes to war." The letter from the leaders of Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Portugal, and Spain that appeared in the Times and several other world papers Thursday sought to counter the impression of a divided world by stressing the bonds between Europe and the United States. Germany and France will surely be infuriated by the line, "Thanks in large part to American bravery, generosity and far-sightedness, Europe was set free from the two forms of tyranny that devastated our continent in the 20th century: Nazism and Communism."

The papers disagreed as to what was the most important section of Bush's speech. The Independent was disappointed that Bush dedicated just 18 words to the situation in Israel, "the crisis that many believe fuels Islamic terrorism more than any other." For the Guardian, the most significant sentence was "the stark assertion that 'the course of this nation does not depend upon the decisions of others.' That was a direct slap in the face for United Nations prevarication and was instantly understood as such by his audience. … For Bush, the world community at the UN is interesting; but not very interesting; and certainly not essential." The Times' foreign editor was most struck by the president's "rallying cry to the Iranian 'street.' " By encouraging revolution in Iran—after Tehran provided quiet support to the U.S. efforts in Afghanistan—Bush could cause concern in Russia and Saudi Arabia. "Both fear that US aggression towards Iraq is simply the first stage of a plan to remodel many autocratic Middle Eastern regimes into ones which better suit US interests."

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.