The Washington Post is reporting that the theme of today’s inauguration speech will be “The Expansion of Freedom.” From the speech:

“We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”

At least he’s consistent. When confronted with almost any problem around the world, Bush typically answers that the solution is “more freedom”. When explaining why anyone in the world would dislike the US, Bush typically answers that it’s because they “hate freedom”. When asked what his foreign policy plans are for the next four years, Bush simply answers “promoting freedom”.

Today’s Guardian points out that Tony Blair is echoing this theme:

Mr Blair said that, as part of a learning process that began with the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the US administration had reached the conclusion that “in the end, we can take security and military measures against terrorism but… the best prospect of peaceful coexistence lies in the spread of democracy and human rights”.

But I disagree. The lack of sufficient “freedom” accounts for at best a small portion of the misery, unhappiness, anger, hatred, violence, and anguish that is felt by much of the world’s population. Poverty, exploitation, lack of education, lack of basic health care – these are all much more substantial problems in the world today than the lack of “freedom”, and much more important contributors to the evils experienced by so many people in this world every day.

“Freedom” is a red herring. “Freedom” allows the Bush administration to appear to be doing something to improve the world (and US security) without having to actually spend the time and resources doing the difficult work of addressing fundamental economic problems. “Freedom” dictates that the US’s spending can be on bombs and guns built in the US rather than on foreign aid, schools, and health care in poor countries around the world.

Don’t get me wrong: I think personal freedoms are fundamentally important and incredibly valuable, and I wish everyone in the world could enjoy those freedoms that I have. But it’s either naive or disingenuous (I tend to think more of the latter) to suggest that the US can make the world a better, safer place simply by bringing democracy to people who still have to watch their children die of hunger and disease, people who are illiterate and uneducated, people who live without hope of a better life. “Freedom” is the Bush administration’s stated solution to all of the world’s ills because it gets them what they want, not because it is actually a solution.