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"We don't seek empires. We're not imperialistic. We never have been. I can't imagine why you'd even ask the question." Donald Rumsfeld, questioned by an al-Jazeera correspondent, April 29, 2003.

"No one can now doubt the word of America," George W. Bush, State of the Union, January 20, 2004.

A Blog by Rahul Mahajan

Notes on Bush's Speech to the United Nations General Assembly

Following are President Bush's remarks before the United Nation, as provided by Federal News Service.

Mr. Secretary-General, Mr. President, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the honor of addressing this General Assembly.

The American people respect the idealism that gave life to this organization. And we respect the men and women of the U.N., who stand for peace and human rights in every part of the world. Welcome to New York City and welcome to the United States of America.

During the past three years, I've addressed this General Assembly in a time of tragedy for my country and in times of decision for all of us. Now we gather at a time of tremendous opportunity for the U.N. and for all peaceful nations.

For decades, the circle of liberty and security and development has been expanding in our world. This progress has brought unity to Europe, self-government to Latin America and Asia, and new hope to Africa. Now we have the historic chance to widen the circle even further, to fight radicalism and terror with justice and dignity, to achieve a true peace founded on human freedom.

RM: Bizarre. At least nominally, Africa has self-government too. Most African countries certainly have more of it than, say, Haiti does at the moment (not to mention Iraq and Afghanistan).

The United Nations and my country share the deepest commitments. Both the American Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim the equal value and dignity of every human life. That dignity is honored by the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, protection of private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance. That dignity is dishonored by oppression, corruption, tyranny, bigotry, terrorism, and all violence against the innocent. And both of our founding documents affirm that this bright line between justice and injustice, between right and wrong, is the same in every age and every culture and every nation.

RM: Of ourse, the Declaration of Independence does no such thing. Even if you don't read it very carefully, it's hard to avoid noting "All men are created equal." And please don't tell me that this is intended to include women. A little more thought will show that, in fact, Africans and Native Americans are not included (read Eric Foner's fascinating book, The Story of American Freedom, to see how often the rhetoric of freedom was explicitly entwined with the preservation of slavery -- the right to keep slaves was one of the freedoms of white men).

Of course, this is a quibble. No American president is going to put down the Declaration. What's much worse is Bush's cynical invocation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Let's leave aside the complicated history of its origin and the way the United States fought to keep it watered down.

The fact is, it is an expansive document and there has never in history been a government or a society that comes close to abiding by it. So there's no point in detailing specific violations of it by the United States. But, more fundamentally, ever since Ronald Reagan, the United States has fundamentally denied that broad categories of rights delineated in the UDHR -- including economic and social rights -- are truly to be considered human rights. Instead, it has focused on what the Reagan administration called the "core human rights" -- civil and political rights.

Economic and social rights, including, for example, the right to employment, are very difficult or impossible to realize in capitalist countries (communist countries have sometimes guaranteed that right, but, shall we say, fallen down on some of the others). In the human rights community, they don't talk about actual upholding of economic and social rights but rather of "progressive realization." But many countries acknowledge that in principle these are human rights, while the United States has led the way in denying that and trying to redefine human rights and undermine the global consensus in favor of them.

Wise governments also stand for these principles for very practical and realistic reasons. We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace. We know that oppressive governments support terror, while free governments fight the terrorists in their midsts. We know that free peoples embrace progress in life instead of becoming the recruits for murderous ideologies.

Every nation that wants peace will share the benefits of a freer world, and every nation that seeks peace has an obligation to help build that world.

Eventually there is no safe isolation from terror networks or failed states that shelter them or outlaw regimes or weapons of mass destruction. Eventually there is no safety in looking away, seeking the quiet life by ignoring the struggles and oppression of others.

In this young century, our world needs a new definition of security. Our security is not merely found in spheres of influence or some balance of power; the security of our world is found in the advancing rights of mankind. These rights are advancing across the world, and across the world the enemies of human rights are responding with violence.

Terrorists and their allies believe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Bill of Rights and every charter of liberty ever written are lies, to be burned and destroyed and forgotten. They believe that dictators should control every mind and tongue in the Middle East and beyond. They believe that suicide and torture and murder are fully justified to serve any goal they declare, and they act on their beliefs.

RM: The line about dictators could be more aptly used to describe U.S. policy than it could the groups like al-Qaeda that the United States is fighting. Not to put too fine a point on it, they oppose every dictatorial (and non-dictatorial regime in the Middle East), while the United States supports most of the dictators. And, leaving out suicide, the rest of that last sentence applies equally to the Bush administration.

In the last year alone, terrorists have attacked police stations and banks and commuter trains and synagogues and a school filled with children. This month in Beslan, we saw once again how the terrorists measure their success: in the death of the innocent and in the pain of grieving families. Svetlana Dzebisov was held hostage, along with her son and her nephew. Her nephew did not survive. She recently visited the cemetery and saw what she called the little graves. She said, "I understand that there is evil in the world, but what have these little creatures done?"

Members of the United Nations, the Russian children did nothing to deserve such awful suffering and fright and death. The people of Madrid and Jerusalem and Istanbul and Baghdad have done nothing to deserve sudden and random murder. These acts violate the standards of justice in all cultures and the principles of all religions. All civilized nations are in this struggle together, and all must fight the murderers.

RM: Disgusting rhetoric. Yes, the children of Beslan did nothing to deserve their murder. Neither did the tens of thousands of Chechen children killed in the 10-year Russian war on Chechnya. Neither did the children killed in the Towers on 9/11. Nor did the thousands of children in Afghanistan who were killed by the U.S. bombing or by the disruption of aid for two months caused by the United States. Nor did the thousands of children killed in Iraq by U.S. bombing and gunfire since the war was launched. Nor did the probably at least 600,000 children under the age of five killed by the sanctions on Iraq. It's kind of part of the definition of being a child.

And the people of Baghdad have certainly done nothing to deserve sudden and random murder while crowding around a destroyed Bradley. Nor did the people of Fallujah and Najaf.

We're determined to destroy terror networks wherever they operate, and the United States is grateful to every nation that is helping to seize terrorist assets, track down their operatives, and disrupt their plans. We're determined to end the state sponsorship of terror, and my nation is grateful to all that participated in the liberation of Afghanistan. We're determined to prevent proliferation and to enforce the demands of the world, and my nation is grateful to the soldiers of many nations who have helped to deliver the Iraqi people from an outlaw dictator.

The dictator agreed in 1991, as a condition of a cease-fire, to fully comply with all Security Council resolutions, then ignored more than a decade of those resolutions. Finally, the Security Council promised serious consequences for his defiance. And the commitments we make must have meaning. When we say "serious consequences," for the sake of peace there must be serious consequences. And so a coalition of nations enforced the just demands of the world.

RM: I'm really tired of this particular lie. The truth is that neither Iraq nor the United States complied with the sanctions and inspections regime as set up in 1991.

Iraq went from resisting weapons inspections at gunpoint to greater and greater degrees of partial compliance, until at the end the only clear problem was insufficient documentation, not actual evidence of existing WMD.

The United States undermined the regime with its imposition of the "no-fly zones," a violation of Iraq's sovereignty with no Security Council authorization, by the illegal "Desert Fox" bombing campaign in 1998, and most of all by a continual stream of assertions, stretching from the first Bush administration through the entire Clinton years, that sanctions would never be lifted while Saddam remained in power -- a violation of the conditions stated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 687.

It seems to me that a good case could be made that, by fundamentally undermining the basis of sanctions and inspections, U.S. actions released Iraq from its obligations under those "sixteen Security Council resolutions."

I wrote about this at length in Full Spectrum Dominance and have now posted the relevant excerpt.

Defending our ideals is vital, but it is not enough. Our broader mission as U.N. members is to apply these ideals to the great issues of our time. Our wider goal is to promote hope and progress as the alternatives to hatred and violence. Our great purpose is to build a better world beyond the war on terror.

Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have established a global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. In three years, the contributing countries have funded projects in more than 90 countries, and pledged a total of $5.6 billion to these efforts. America has undertaken a $15 billion effort to provide prevention and treatment and humane care in nations afflicted by AIDS, placing a special focus on 15 countries where the need is most urgent. AIDS is the greatest health crisis of our time, and our unprecedented commitment will bring new hope to those who have walked too long in the shadow of death.

Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have joined together to confront the evil of trafficking in human beings. We're supporting organizations that rescue the victims, passing stronger anti-trafficking laws, and warning travelers that they will be held to account for supporting this modern form of slavery. Women and children should never be exploited for pleasure or greed anywhere on earth.

Because we believe in human dignity, we should take seriously the protection of life from exploitation under any pretext. In this session, the U.N. will consider a resolution sponsored by Costa Rica calling for a comprehensive ban on human cloning.

I support that resolution and urge all governments to affirm a basic ethical principle: no human life should ever be produced or destroyed for the benefit of another.

Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have changed the way we fight poverty, curb corruption and provide aid. In 2002 we created the Monterrey Consensus, a bold approach that links new aid from developed nations to real reform in developing ones. And through the Millennium Challenge Account, my nation is increasing our aid to developing nations that expand economic freedom and invest in the education and health of their own people.

Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have acted to lift the crushing burden of debt that limits the growth of developing economies and holds millions of people in poverty. Since these efforts began in 1996, poor countries with the heaviest debt burdens have received more than $30 billion of relief. And to prevent the buildup of future debt, my country and other nations have agreed that international financial institutions should increasingly provide new aid in the forms of grants, rather than loans.

Because we believe in human dignity, the world must have more effective means to stabilize regions in turmoil and to halt religious violence and ethnic cleansing. We must create permanent capabilities to respond to future crises. The United States and Italy have proposed a global peace operations initiative. G-8 countries will train 75,000 peacekeepers, initially from Africa, so they can conduct operations on that continent and elsewhere. The countries of the G-8 will help this peacekeeping force with deployment and logistical needs.

At this hour, the world is witnessing terrible suffering and horrible crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan -- crimes my government has concluded are genocide. The United States played a key role in efforts to broker a cease-fire, and we're providing humanitarian assistance to the Sudanese people. Rwanda and Nigeria have deployed forces in Sudan to help improve security, so aid can be delivered.

The Security Council adopted a new resolution that supports an expanded African Union force to help prevent further bloodshed and urges the government of Sudan to stop flights by military aircraft in Darfur. We congratulate the members of the council on this timely and necessary action. I call on the government of Sudan to honor the cease-fire it signed and to stop the killing in Darfur.

Because we believe in human dignity, peaceful nations must stand for the advance of democracy.

No other system of government has done more to protect minorities, to secure the rights of labor, to raise the status of women, or to channel human energy to the pursuits of peace.

We've witnessed the rise of democratic governments in predominantly Hindu and Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish and Christian cultures. Democratic institutions have taken root in modern societies and in traditional societies. When it comes to the desire for liberty and justice, there is no clash of civilizations. People everywhere are capable of freedom and worthy of freedom.

Finding the full promise of representative government takes time, as America has found in two centuries of debate and struggle. Nor is there only one form of representative government, because democracies, by definition, take on the unique character of the peoples that create them. Yet this much we know with certainty: the desire for freedom resides in every human heart. And that desire cannot be contained forever by prison walls or martial laws or secret police. Over time and across the Earth, freedom will find a way.

Freedom is finding a way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we must continue to show our commitment to democracies in those nations. The liberty that many have won at a cost must be secured. As members of the United Nations, we all have a stake in the success of the world's newest democracies.

Not long ago, outlaw regimes in Baghdad and Kabul threatened the peace and sponsored terrorists. These regimes destabilized one of the world's most vital and most volatile regions. They brutalized their peoples in defiance of all civilized norms.

Today the Iraqi and Afghan people are on the path to democracy and freedom. The governments that are rising will pose no threat to others. Instead of harboring terrorists, they're fighting terrorist groups. And this progress is good for the long-term security of all of us.

The Afghan people are showing extraordinary courage under difficult conditions. They're fighting to defend their nation from Taliban holdouts and helping to strike against the terrorist killers. They're reviving their economy. They've adopted a constitution that protects the rights of all while honoring their nation's most cherished traditions. More than 10 million Afghan citizens, over 4 million of them women, are now registered to vote in next month's presidential election. To any who still would question whether Muslim societies can be democratic societies, the Afghan people are giving their answer.

RM: Brilliant. Not quite up there with his statement on April 30 when talking to a reporter in the Rose Garden:
"There's a lot of people in the world who don't believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren't necessarily -- are a different color than white can self-govern."
But still mighty impressive. Now, it so happens that in the United States "our" skin color is not exactly well-defined. And that it's pretty well-known that non-white people can have democratic self-government.

But even with regard to Muslim societies this is grossly inaccurate. Bush is apparently unaware that Turkey, still a close U.S. ally, is always touted by the United States as a shining example of Muslim democracy. If you look closely, Turkey has had four military interventions. 1960 was a progressive military coup against an extremely dictatorial  "democratic" government; 1971 was a slightly reactionary "coup by memorandum," in which the military never assumed explicit control, trading one civilian government for another; 1980 was a flagrantly reactionary coup; and 1997 was just like 1971. After both the 1960 and the 1980 coups, civilian government and elections were restored with dispatch, although Turkey in the 1980's and early 1990's was a pretty harsh police state. In any case, in the meantime they have a press that is censored but still shows a greater range of opinion than the U.S. press, real political parties, active political disputes, and fair elections. All in all, more of a record of democracy than Afghanistan will have even after its rubber-stamp election of Hamid Karzai on October 9.

Indonesia now has a democracy, again with active, disputatious political parties and fair elections. This evolved after the people, in a massive exercise of democracy, brought down the U.S.-supported dictator Suharto.

Iran had a dandy democracy before the US-British coup in 1953. And since 1979, by Bush's definition -- having some kind of election -- it has been a democracy as well. I'm not sure the Islamic theocracy that is set above the elected government is more of an impediment to democracy than a foreign occupation. Pakistan has also had several democratic periods.

And, by the way, not a good idea to trumpet the number of registered Afghan voters so loud. It seems fairly clear that the number of registered voters is greater than the number of eligible voters. 100% registration would be great, an improvement on the situation in the United States, but there are cases where, in fact, more is not better.

Anyway, voting in an election with a single viable candidate, who runs a government that has virtually no power base except for the U.S. military and the international peacekeeping coalition, under a foreign occupation that, just as in Iraq, regularly kills innocent people does not quite a democracy make.

By the way, yes, Bush really is this ignorant.

Since the last meeting of this General Assembly, the people of Iraq have regained sovereignty. Today in this hall, the prime minister of Iraq and his delegation represent a country that has rejoined the community of nations. The government of Prime Minister Allawi has earned the support of every nation that believes in self- determination and desires peace. And under Security Council Resolutions 1511 and 1546, the world is providing that support.

RM: How can even George W. Bush claim that a process in which he appointed L. Paul Bremer head of the CPA and Bremer appointed Allawi head of the interim government, in defiance of the wishes of even most of the Iraqi forces that are collaborating with the occupation has anything to do with "self-determination?" Take the red pill, George.

The U.N. and its member nations must respond to Prime Minister Allawi's requests and do more to help build an Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal and free.

A democratic Iraq has ruthless enemies because terrorists know the stakes in that country. They know that a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a decisive blow against their ambitions for that region. So a terrorist group associated with al Qaeda is now one of the main groups killing the innocent in Iraq today, conducting a campaign of bombings against civilians, and the beheadings of bound men.

RM: Actually, the particular terrorists he is referring to are on record as thinking Saddam's being in power was a "decisive blow" against their ambitions. More important, though, once again Bush is performing this cheap rhetorical trick of identifying all resistance in Iraq with organizations like al-Qaeda and al-Tawhid wal-Jihad. Even he knows this is not true; certainly everyone else does. Moqtada al-Sadr, the mujaheddin of Fallujah, the Association of Muslim Scholars, and other anti-occupation forces do not appear to be against having elections in Iraq, which of couse, as we know from Afghanistan, is Bush's definition of democracy. Sadr in particular seems actively in favor of them.

Coalition forces now serving in Iraq are confronting the terrorists and foreign fighters so peaceful nations around the world will never have to face them within our own borders. Our coalition is standing beside a growing Iraqi security force. The NATO alliance is providing vital training to that force. More than 35 nations have contributed money and expertise to help rebuild Iraq's infrastructure. And as the Iraqi interim government moves toward national elections, officials from the United Nations are helping the Iraqis build the infrastructure of democracy. These selfless people are doing heroic work and are carrying on the great legacy of Sergio de Mello.

As we've seen in other countries, one of the main terrorist goals is to undermine, disrupt and influence election outcomes. We can expect terrorist attacks to escalate as Afghanistan and Iraq approach national elections. The work ahead is demanding, but these difficulties will not shake our conviction that the future of Afghanistan and Iraq is a future of liberty. The proper response to difficulty is not to retreat, it is to prevail. The advance of freedom always carries a cost paid by the bravest among us. America mourns the losses to our nation and to many others. And today I assure every friend of Afghanistan and Iraq and every enemy of liberty: We will stand with the people of Afghanistan and Iraq until their hopes of freedom and security are fulfilled.

RM: The Taliban are clearly trying to undermine and disrupt the show elections the United States is planning for October, going so far as to kill people for no other reason than that they are holding a voter registration card. I know of no acts in Iraq either by resistance groups or terrorists aimed at undermining elections. On the other hand, the United States has frequently cancelled or postponed local elections in Iraq and only agreed to the January deadline for elections while under pressure from other members of the Security Council because of its attemtps to pass UNSCR 1546 on the "transfer of sovereignty."

These two nation will be a model for the broader Middle East, a region where millions have been denied basic human rights and simple justice. For too long, many nations, including my own, tolerated, even excused oppression in the Middle East in the name of stability. Oppression became common, but stability never arrived. We must take a different approach. We must help the reformers of the Middle East as they work for freedom and strive to build a community of peaceful democratic nations.

This commitment to democratic reform is essential to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Peace will not be achieved by Palestinian rulers who intimidate opposition, tolerate corruption, and maintain ties to terrorist groups. The long-suffering Palestinian people deserve better. They deserve true leaders, capable of creating and governing a free and peaceful Palestinian state.

RM: It continues to amaze me that Bush so blithely presumes to tell the Palestinians who their "true leaders" are or should be.

Even after the setbacks and frustrations of recent months, goodwill and hard effort can achieve the promise of the road map to peace. Those who would lead a new Palestinian state should adopt peaceful means to achieve the rights of their people and create the reformed institutions of a stable democracy. Arab states should end incitement in their own media, cut off public and private funding for terrorism, and establish normal relations with Israel. Israel should impose a settlement freeze, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people, and avoid any actions that prejudice final negotiations. And world leaders should withdraw all favor and support from any Palestinian ruler who fails his people and betrays their cause.

The democratic hopes we see growing in the Middle East are growing everywhere. In the words of the Burmese democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, "We do not accept the notion that democracy is a Western value. To the contrary, democracy simply means good government rooted in responsibility, transparency and accountability."

RM: It's really annoying to see someone like Bush, who has never suffered even a hangnail for the sake of his principles, try to appropriate the legitimacy of someone like Aung San Suu Kyi. How does the Bush administration stack up on "responsibility, transparency, and accountability," by the way?

Here at the United Nations, you know this to be true. In recent years, this organization has helped create a new democracy in East Timor, and the U.N. has aided other nations in making the transition to self-rule.

Because I believe the advance of liberty is the path to both a safer and better world, today I propose establishing a democracy fund within the United Nations. This is a great calling for this great organization. The fund would help countries lay the foundations of democracy by instituting the rule of law and independent courts, a free press, political parties and trade unions. Money from the fund would also help set up voter precincts and polling places, and support the work of election monitors.

RM: Most likely, this is another "mission to Mars." If this is something real, it's a very scary prospect, like internationalizing the National Endowment for Democracy, which brought us the Venezuela coup attempt and the Haiti coup (the actual body funding this was the International Republican Institute, affiliated with the NED).

To show our commitment to the new democracy fund, the United States will make an initial contribution. I urge all other nations to contribute as well.

Today, I've outlined a broad agenda to advance human dignity and enhance the security of all of us: the defeat of terror, the protection of human rights, the spread of prosperity, the advance of democracy. These causes -- these ideals -- call us to great work in the world.

Each of us alone can only do so much. Together we can accomplish so much more.

History will honor the high ideals of this organization. The charter states them with clarity: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

Let history also record that our generation of leaders followed through on these ideals, even in adversity. Let history show that in a decisive decade, members of the United Nations did not grow weary in our duties or waver in meeting them.

I'm confident that this young century will be liberty's century. I believe we will rise to this moment, because I know the character of so many nations and leaders represented here today. And I have faith in the transforming power of freedom.

May God bless you.
Rahul Mahajan is publisher of Empire Notes. He has been to Iraq twice in recent months and reported from Fallujah while it was under siege. His latest book, “Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond,” covers U.S. policy on Iraq, deceptions about weapons of mass destruction, the plans of the neoconservatives, and the face of the new Bush imperial policies, as well as continuities between Democratic and Republican policies on Iraq. He can be reached at
Full Spectrum Dominance: U.S. Power in Iraq and Beyond"Report from Baghdad -- Hospital Closings and U.S. War Crimes "Report from Baghdad -- Winning Hearts and Minds"Report from Fallujah -- Destroying a Town in Order to "Save" it"Report from Baghdad -- Opening the Gates of Hell"War on Terrorism" Makes Us All Less Safe Bush -- Is the Tide Turning?Perle and FrumIntelligence Failure Kerry vs. Dean SOU 2004: Myth and Reality