SOTU Divides Foreign Media

As the U.S. media focused primarily on plans laid out by President George W. Bush in Wednesday night's State of the Union Address to overhaul social security, foreign media zeroed in on his comments about Iraq, and warnings he issued to Syria, Iran, and other countries in the Middle East.

Radio Netherlands said that while Mr. Bush only mentioned 9/11 once Wednesday night, "the president's foreign policy remains rooted in the trauma of that day."

Qatar-based satellite news network Al Jazeera said Bush used his state of the union speech to prepare the world "for more death and destruction" when he warned Iran and Syria that they were "in his sights."

Not all foreign media saw Bush's words as being so threatening. Columnist Michael Gawenda, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, believes that Bush's speech showed he is actually changing his foreign policy.


Mr. Gawenda noted that Bush talked about consulting more with European allies, his desire to have the United Nations and the European Union help in the rebuilding of Iraq, and that while he did issue some warning against Iran and Syria in particular, his speech lacked "the dire warnings that were so stark in his previous addresses." Perhaps the clearest sign that Mr. Bush is prepared to make serious changes to his foreign policy is his commitment of $350 million in aid to the Palestinian Authority and his emphatic endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as Washington's support for both sides to achieve that goal.
Just what the U.S. is prepared to do to help the process is crucial. Mr. Bush talked only about helping the Palestinians with the process of building democratic institutions and ending terrorism but he was clearly signalling that his policy of standing on the sidelines and waiting for democratic reform was over.
Germany's Deutche Welle reports that European leaders liked Bush's "soothing words" about Iran, but worry about future dealings with countries like China, Syria and Cuba.
In China, the EU – dazzled by the world's biggest market – has gone on a friendly course, offering to lift its arms embargo. The U.S. sees the move as potentially dangerous for Taiwan, which still enjoys America's support against a Chinese takeover. The EU is also interested in normalizing its relations with Cuba, something Washington is strictly against.
Columnist Greg Sheridan, writing in the Australian, however, did not see any new directions in foreign policy, instead noting that the speech showed that Bush was "a man of his word, like it or lump it."
Bush's stubbornness – resolve to his admirers, inflexibility and simpleton certitudes to his detractors – is in fact one of his greatest strategic assets. So much of strategic policy is about influencing the psychology of the battlefield. Bush's enemies have to contend with the fact that he doesn't change his position, he doesn't give up and he doesn't give in.
But Sydney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Clinton, writes in the Guardian that the state of the union speech "adds the element of euphoria to the utopianism of his inaugural speech." And he believes the vote last Sunday in Iraq, mentioned so often by Bush Wednesday night, was not quite a "victory for liberty" but actually "the culmination of the long Iran-Iraq war that Iran has won without lifting a finger."
Its [Iran's] neighbor has been replaced by a Shiite ascendancy atop a weak state that cannot threaten it, but is subject to its influence in many ways. When the mist of elation lifts, the shadow of Iran looms ... Yet the U.S. is overstretched militarily, and it cannot be conclusively known that all Iranian nuclear facilities would be eliminated by an Osirak-like strike. If attacked, Iran could create untold mischief within Iraq. But the dream world of ideology trumps the national interest. Thus, toward the Europeans' greatest diplomatic initiative, on the country whose fate is most closely linked with Iraq, Bush's policy, on the eve of his trip to Europe, is a vacuum.
Finally, the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo focused on the relatively small amount of time Bush spent dealing with the issue of North Korea. The Ilbo reported that experts offered several differing reasons for this lack of attention.
First, Bush's restraint could be a tacit invitation to Pyongyang to quickly come back to the six-party talks. North Korea has taken the attitude that it would decide on whether to restart the talks based on the attitude the Bush administration takes toward it.

In essence that means that President Bush must not criticize the North Korean regime in his State of the Union address, a condition the U.S. president satisfied.

Another explanation is that the U.S. judges the North Korean nuclear crisis to be so pressing that it must put the regime issue on the back burner. That view is supported by U.S. newspaper reports claiming "with 90 percent certainty" that North Korea exported uranium to Libya for use in building nuclear weapons.
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