The State of the Union gets a frosty reception abroad.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Jan. 23 2004 4:44 PM

Bushwhacking

The State of the Union gets a frosty reception abroad.

America-watchers the world over experienced twin frissons of excitement this week after John Kerry's surprise Iowa victory and President Bush's State of the Union address put U.S. domestic politics onto the international news agenda. Bush's unapologetic speech garnered rebukes from Toronto to Beirut, even as the Democratic contest raised some pundits' hopes for a U.S. regime change.

Japan's Asahi Shimbun suggested Bush should adopt a more "relaxed and humble attitude" if he wants to keep his job and described the speech as part of  "a defensive campaign strategy focused on stressing his achievements … rather than widening the battle front." Most commentators see Bush as a likely winner in November. Writing in France's Le Figaro, Charles Lambroschini argued, "It will take a miracle for the Democrats to win the White House, or a catastrophe for Mr Bush to lose it." (Translation courtesy of Britain's Guardian.) An editorial in Pakistan's Daily Times fretted, "Bush is likely to win the next election. What might that win bring in its wake for the Muslim world is anybody's guess. But it is not likely to be good news."

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Arab politicians and papers agreed wholeheartedly with the Daily Times' pessimism, according to a BBC compilation of disappointed Middle Eastern reactions to the speech. An editorial in the United Arab Emirates-based Gulf News expressed the region's rage at Bush for failing to concede his mistake in accusing Iraq of harboring weapons of mass destruction: "Without noticing the contradiction, Mr Bush stated this year: 'For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible and no one can now doubt the word of America.' " An editorial in Lebanon's Daily Star was only slightly more charitable when it allowed that Bush's speech was true to his presidency, calling it "an accurate reflection of the state of US relations with the world: marvelous in some respects, and dangerously naive in others."

Some of the harshest criticism came from Western allies who attacked Bush on everything from economics to his choice of adjectives. An editorial in the Toronto Star disputed Bush's claim that the union is "confident and strong," suggesting "frayed and testy" would be more accurate. "Polls show Bush to be a divisive figure both at home and abroad who alienates as much as he impresses." And while Bush failed to mention his "road map" even once, "the Middle East lurches toward catastrophe." Also in the Star, Haroon Siddiqui offered an itemized rebuttal to the address in which he observed, "[I]t was a chastened Bush we saw. … He has already lost his halo."

The prize for angriest editorial goes to the Star of South Africa, where "Bush Twaddle" dealt swiftly with the president's "gobbledygook": The "address was largely war talk and blatant dishonesty. … Suddenly, the absolute certainty about weapons of mass destruction has transmogrified into 'dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related programme activities.' "

Britain's Daily Telegraph lambasted Bush's casual failure to properly address his administration's mounting budget deficit: "He first said he planned to cut it by half, but then went on, incongruously, to suggest ideas that could only make it bigger." The Telegraph took the dollar's post-speech drop as a sign the markets do not share the president's confidence in the future. The editorial warned that Bush might end up copying his father by prematurely promising "no new taxes" and predicted that Bush would cut some of his spending initiatives before the election. The Australian made the same point in more ominous terms:

Mr Bush has presided over a stunning deterioration in federal finances, as well as in the US's indebtedness to the rest of the world. Unchallenged, this 'twin deficit' remains the greatest imbalance in the world economy, and a threat to recovery everywhere.

Ed Finn is the director of the Center for Science and the Imagination and an assistant professor in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Department of English at Arizona State University.

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