Fri, Jan 28, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Bush's speeches puzzle many

STATE OF DECLARATIONS The US leader's lack of concrete details on how his lofty goals will be achieved has diplomats, lawmakers and others mulling over his words


US President George W. Bush gestures as he talks about ``firmly planting the flag of liberty'' while he answers a question from the news media during a press conference in the White House on Wednesday. Bush answered questions on Iraq, the Rice nomination, the Gonzales nomination and themes from his inaugural speech.


US President George W. Bush has launched into his second term with lofty declarations on freedom and liberty, but his recent inaugural address left many foreign capitals trying to decipher what exactly this heralds for the world.

And analysts said the details of the president's declarations, which extended to domestic reforms, remain woolly.

At his inauguration last Thursday, Bush emphasized that the global fight against tyranny will be a core principle of US foreign policy.

And in a White House press conference on Wednesday, he stressed his plan to reform the vast US Social Security system would also be a key goal during his second four-year term.

But the lack of concrete details on how such lofty goals will be achieved has left many diplomats in foreign capitals, as well as lawmakers in the halls of the US Congress, mulling over Bush's words.

Part of Bush's Jan. 20 inauguration speech, for example, together with frank comments made the same morning by Vice President Dick Cheney, were understood in many countries as a direct threat of military action against Iran.

Bush did not make himself much clearer on Wednesday, when he insisted simply that: "My inaugural address reflected the policies of the past four years that we are implementing in Afghanistan and Iraq."

Even seasoned political analysts are scratching their heads.

"The language of the inaugural address was very robust," said Stephen Hess, an expert on presidential history at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

"But also there is not really any other thing in the world like an American presidential inaugural address, which is basically a statement of principle," Hess explained.

"Other nations which probably have not paid that much attention to this form have truly not understood it, and have spent an awful lot of the last week trying to analyze what it possibly meant in policy terms," he said.

Since his reelection, Bush has also repeatedly stated he would take advantage of the "political capital" accumulated in his victory to launch sweeping reforms of tax and Social Security programs.

But again, the White House has provided few details on how this will be achieved.

"The president says nice words, but there is little follow-up," said Howard Dean, who last year ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination and now hopes to win the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Bush, who has said that Social Security must be reformed before the system goes bankrupt, acknowledged on Wednesday that the issue is highly explosive.

"Social security has been an issue that has made people nervous. People felt like it was the third rail of American politics. That means if you touch it, it will be political death," Bush said.

Opposition Democrats have countered that the Republican president is creating a climate of crisis around the Social Security system in order to force reform. The system is in fact solvent at least until 2042, the Democrats argue.

When it comes to details, though, Bush has confined himself to expressing opposition to any increase in salary deductions for Social Security, which some economists say would ensure the system's long-term stability.

Instead, Bush supports diverting some of the deductions to private retirement savings accounts for younger workers.

The lack of details in the president's plans has not stopped Republicans and Democrats from lining up for the political battles to come. On Social Security, some Republicans have made known their own opposition to the president's plans.

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