Overseas reaction to President Bush’s first State of the Union predictably focused on the sections about the war on terrorism, but the ferocity of the reaction was unexpected. A commentary in Britain’s liberal Guardian, headlined “Hate of the union,” claimed the address “proclaimed an escalation of the US war on terror that has more to do with justifying national missile defence than with September 11.” Considering the three countries named as the “axis of evil,” the paper’s Washington correspondent noted that while it was always likely that the Bush administration would target Iraq, Iran has a democratically elected president and parliament, “albeit constrained by a conservative theocracy,” and North Korea “has hitherto been seen as an inward-looking oddball dictatorship, with few outside links to global terrorism.” Iran and North Korea earned their presidential shout-out because they both have missile development programs, and “[w]ithout their inclusion on the list, [missile-defense] critics could argue that September 11 made the expensive and elaborate scheme all but irrelevant for the foreseeable future.” The Financial Times drew no connection to missile defense, but agreed, “North Korea and Iran do not belong in the same breath as Iraq. To lump them together is simplistic and will alienate new allies in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.”
The speech was clearly intended for domestic consumption, but several papers worried how it would be perceived abroad. Britain’s Independent declared: “[Bush’s] forthright views will play well at home. But many outside America are likely to find them distinctly disturbing.” The Financial Times noted that three of the four terrorist groups named by the president target Israel, “To single them out may sound right in Ohio and Wisconsin. It does not in the Middle East.”
In France, Libérationwas surprised by the president’s tone, which it said was “more martial than ever,” while Le Monde concluded that Bush’s rhetoric lacked credibility. Le Monde said that by forming anti-terror alliances with Russia and China, countries that use terror tactics against their own citizens in Chechnya and Tibet, the United States becomes party to their acts. The editorial concluded by noting that China and Russia are the main suppliers of suppliers of “military programs” to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
The Timesof London approved of the address for having made the “Bush Doctrine” on terrorism “much more coherent.” The editorial also endorsed the “naming and shaming” of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, which it perceived as fusing the war on terror “with a determined drive to contain or overthrow rogue states which trade in weapons of mass destruction. … He is reserving the authority to take whatever pre-emptive measures might be necessary to prevent any of these countries reaching the point where they can exercise political blackmail.” The editorial concluded, rather ominously, “It is hard to conceive how Mr Bush could make such a speech and then wait months before initiating military activity.”
During the speech, the president praised those governments that are “acting forcefully” to eliminate terrorism in their midst, and added: “But some governments will be timid in the face of terror. And make no mistake about it: If they do not act, America will.” The Sydney Morning Herald reacted:
No hint here that he understands that he is talking of sovereign nations, some of whose governments are not so much timid as bankrupt and powerless. No acknowledgement, either, that “terrorist” is a term used not only to describe misguided fanatics intent on destroying Western civilisation, but also by oppressive regimes to demonise their internal enemies, who are often drawn from suffering ethnic or religious minorities.
In the Philippines, where, as the president noted in the State of the Union, U.S. troops are currently on a training mission, the political establishment took umbrage at what was perceived as a mischaracterization of the nation’s record on terrorism and a threat of unilateral action by the United States. Former President Fidel Ramos told the Manila Times, “[Bush’s] speech was not well researched by his ghost writers,” and complained that Bush failed to acknowledge the Filipino government’s role in preventing terrorist attacks such as the plots to assassinate Pope John Paul II and former President Bill Clinton. Filipino Justice Secretary Hernando Perez also balked at Bush’s belligerence. He told the Philippine Inquirer, “It’s clear in my mind that one president of a friendly country does not threaten another friendly country. We don’t depend on what the Americans claims to be necessary. We do seek assistance from them in case of need, but that doesn’t mean they will run the foreign policy of our country.”
Koizumi’s first crisis: In what the Ageof Melbourne described as “the first political crisis the Koizumi administration has faced since it took office last April,” Japan’s prime minister fired his popular foreign minister Tuesday, after a dispute over the exclusion of two Japanese NGOs from the recent Tokyo conference on aid for Afghanistan threatened to bring the legislature to a halt. When opposition MPs threatened to block passage of a crucial budget bill until the dispute was resolved, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi axed Makiko Tanaka and her deputy. According to the Times, Tanaka was a reformer “defeated by old guard politicians and civil servants determined to drive her out of the ministry.” It said Koizumi’s image would “take a severe dent” after the sacking. (For more on Koizumi’s image, see this “International Papers” from April 2001.) The Japan Times agreed that “it is Mr. Koizumi who should be blamed most severely.” The foreign ministry was in turmoil for months as Tanaka warred with bureaucrats, while he “remained a virtual observer.” The Daily Yomiuri supported Koizumi’s decision, declaring he “had no other option,” though it conceded he was “partly responsible for the confusion” because he took so long to fire Tanaka, fearing the loss of public approval. The editorial added, “In spite of the fact that Tanaka, through her remarks and actions, displayed a pattern of behavior that threw serious doubt on her suitability for the office of foreign minister, she remained highly popular with the public.”