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FRIDAY, JANUARY 21, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Freed of politics, Bush may look out for America

Anyone who hoped to hear President Bush apologize for the war in Iraq went away disappointed after Thursday's inaugural address.

The president reaffirmed his belief that, even in the absence of weapons of mass destruction, attacking Iraq was wise.

"So it is the policy of the United States," Mr. Bush pronounced, "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

Saddam Hussein is out; freedom can flourish.

Moreover, the president reaffirmed his commitment to leave troops in Iraq.

"Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon," he said, clearly referring to Iraq.

The president also reaffirmed the ideology that placed American soldiers in Iraq. In countries governed by tyrants like Saddam Hussein, he said, "violence will gather, and multiply in destructive power, and cross the most defended borders, and raise a mortal threat."

And most important, he suggested we may expect more of the same. In his second term, Mr. Bush said he will not shirk from his duty "to protect this nation and its people against further attacks and emerging threats."

The last four years were so mired in partisanship, so riddled with ignoble skirmishes between the left and right, that it is tempting to analyze Mr. Bush's inaugural address through the prism of partisanship. That would be a mistake.

As of Thursday, President Bush was freed of his masters. He need not cater to Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, environmentalists or oil tycoons. No matter who he offends, he is in Washington for another four years and no longer.

In one sense, that is frightening. Those critical of Mr. Bush's policies in the first term at least had confidence that the desire for re-election served as a check. The hawks may have had his ear, but the people controlled his political fate.

But in another sense, it is delightful. It is too late for Halliburton to take back its contributions. Mr. Bush is in office. In his second term, there is no reason to suspect that he would deliberately elevate the interests of any political party or any corporation above the interests of the American people.

Mr. Bush's aggressive foreign policy may turn out to be flawed, but it is hubris to assume our crystal ball is better than his. Confronted with rogue nations that have access to both nuclear bombs and long-range missiles, religious zealots who have access to biological weapons and have no fear of death, we are in an uncharted world. We are exposed to new threats, and our president's duty to protect us is more burdensome, more complex, than ever.

For the first time, Mr. Bush is liberated from the demands of political survival. Who knows? He just might be up to the task.

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