In his Inaugural Address President Bush spoke of September 11, 2001, as a "day of fire" that woke the nation from "the repose" of its post-Cold War hiatus from history. He said that by liberating Afghanistan and Iraq, "We have lit a fire in the minds of men." He called freedom an "untamed fire" that "will one day reach the darkest corners of our world," and cast the U.S. as the arsonist of "tyranny" in the twenty-first century. Yet the speech seemed to leave the audience of Republican faithful cold. Perhaps they were too cold in the near-freezing temperatures outside the Capitol, or expected a different speech, or were sobered by the chialism of the speech they heard. In any case, they gave the President only perfunctory applause. The day's master of ceremonies, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, as if sensing the void of enthusiasm, quickly resumed the podium after the President's speech and moved the ceremony along.
According to the Nelson Report, an insider newsletter, the President wants to hear only good news about Iraq, but those listening to Mr. Bush at the Capitol—and those Americans watching the Inaugural at home—cannot have escaped the bad news about Iraq nor the doubts it has raised about the limits of U.S. power. We think of power as military strength, as force. Yet, as Hans Morgenthau pointed out in Politics Among Nations, the classic postwar text on international relations, power is primarily "a psychological relation" that gives those exercising it control over others "through the influence which the former exert over the latter's minds." National power is measured by the capacity to persuade one's friends, overawe one's enemies, and have one's goals accepted as legitimate by international opinion. Iraq has revealed a failure of U.S. power in all these dimensions. We could not get our European allies to join us; far from overawing the Iraqi insurgents and the jihadi car bombers we have emboldened them; and we have alienated world opinion from our cause. According to a recent poll, 58 percent of non-American humanity believes Bush's reelection is a threat to peace. "The world sees Americans' own sense of the universal power of their fine national ideals," writes Rami Khouri, the executive editor of the Beirut-based Daily Star, "as both presumptuous bombast and unacceptably predatory aggression."
In pledging to those living under tyranny that "the United States will not ignore your oppression," Bush ignores the drain of American power for which he is responsible and which renders his pledge meaningless. The liberation of captive peoples will not "primarily" take a military form, the President says—and good thing, since our military cannot provide even basic security to the Iraqis. We have liberated them from tyranny to anarchy, which often leads back to tyranny. To borrow a concept Walter Lippmann applied to the disparity between the professed objectives of U.S. policy in the Cold War—which at one time included a promise to liberate "the captive peoples" behind the Iron Curtain—and U.S. power, the foreign policy Bush proposes is "insolvent." It is tantamount to writing a huge check with no money in the bank to cover it. (A fair description of the Bush economic policy.)