Russian Media on the State of the Union

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By most American commentators’ assessment, George Bush’s seventh State of the Union Address was significant for the ritual of it, rather than the substance. The LA Times stated that it “felt even more compulsory than usual” and that Bush “seemed at times to be going through the motions.” On Iraq, the proverbial elephant standing in the middle of the chamber, the paper stated that “he said little that was particularly original or helpful.” On the Iraq issue the NY Times stated that he “added nothing to his failed policies.” The Washington Post lobbed lighter criticism. Bush goal, the daily stated, was not so much to convince anyone about the solvency of his new course for Iraq, but more to “drive home the point that the “consequences of failure would be grievous and far reaching.” The Post agreed with Mr. Bush, writing, “On this, [he] is assuredly correct.” Thus spoketh America’s leading newspapers.

There is much one can say about the substance or lack thereof in Bush’s speech. His rhetorical platitudes appear farcical when confronted with the reality the United States faces. His move to statements of bipartisanship and domestic issues, however genuine or necessary, appear more as a means to fill the time and avoid the dire situation in Iraq. The fact that Bush had no fresh ideas on the war signals that he has either tired of giving them or that he feels his original views can still lead to victory.

And the war wages on. As always, Patrick Cockburn provides a vivid picture of the situation in Baghdad. His view? “It is extraordinary that, almost four years after US forces captured Baghdad, they control so little of it. The outlook for Mr. Bush’s strategy of driving out insurgents from strongholds and preventing them coming back does not look good.” I highly recommend his book The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq for his assessment of how the US got into this debacle.

Then there is the story that very few are paying any attention to: Blackwater mercenaries. That is except for Jeremy Scahill. In a column in the LA Times Scahill gives a taste of his upcoming book, Blackwater: The Rise of the Most Powerful Mercenary Firm in the World. On Monday, a Blackwater helicopter was shot down by insurgents. The five mercenaries who survived the crash were later found with gunshots to the back of the head. Scahill believed that Bush’s call for a “Civilian Reserve Corps” in the State of the Union is a veiled move to further use “taxpayer dollars to run an outsourcing laboratory.”

Sadly, the Democrats don’t have much to contribute by way of solutions. For the last few weeks they have wavered between symbolic opposition in the form of “unbinding resolutions” or trying to formulate a rhetoric that avoids saying the word “pullout.” Despite what Bush may think and do about Iraq, at least he has a position. The Democrats can’t even claim that.

As we all know, the State of the Union speech by the President of the United States is not simply a domestic affair. In the age of American Empire, a President’s words can have reverberations across the globe. Bush’s seventh is no different in this respect, even if it lacks any new vision for domestic audiences. For international audiences, Tuesday’s State of the Union was a long drawn out way of saying “stay the course.” Still, the speech was analyzed by the foreign media, because in a way their fate is tied in varying degrees with American policy.

On that note, let’s take a look at what some of the Russian media are saying.

Sergei Strokan’s analysis, “A Speech of International Defeat,” in Kommersant argued that the speech signalled a death knell for Bush’s policies. Quoting Bush telling the American public, “whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure,” Strokan states that these words “for the first time in the entire Iraq campaign, President Bush disavowed his oft-repeated opinion that America is winning in Iraq. This time, the president did not only limit himself to saying that this is not true – he actually stooped to giving an explanation of why victory is not being achieved. “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq,” admitted Mr. Bush, adding that the White House’s plans have been foiled by exploding sectarian violence and that international terrorism is only pouring fuel on the fire.”

Writing for the Russian state newspaper, Rossiisskaya gazeta, Sergei Chirkin, who titled his opinion, “Bush Turned the Clock,” noted that despite the troubles, the speech’s central goal was to dispel the already held opinion about the President’s political weakness.” The absence of Mr. Bush’s political capital is not so easy to hide. And because of this, or perhaps in spite of it, Chirkin notes that “the present speech would not contain large scale ideas and a long list of proposals.”

Writing in, Mikhail Pervushkin, in a commentary called, “Almost a Prayer,” stated, “As expected, in his speech [Bush] spoke in defense of his recent decision to send to Iraq an additional 20,000 soldiers, including 4,000 marines to Anbar Province.” Bush’s defense was met by the Democratic majority “without enthusiasm.”

One would expect that Bush’s lackluster performance would have generated more scathing rhetoric from Russia’s newspapers. However, it seems that from a scan of Russia’s other dailies, they are part of the global consensus: as a whole, the State of Union was old wine in new bottles. This wine, bottled by a beleaguered lame duck, will certainly end up having a sour taste.