IN HIS second inaugural address, President Bush promised to expand the sphere of human freedom both at home and abroad. That is an impressive agenda, but it must be done with humility and respect for others. Otherwise it becomes an excuse to impose his administration's ideological agenda on Americans and citizens of other countries who do not define the word quite the way he does.
"The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,'' Bush said yesterday. By that criterion the United States would be justified in using armed force to overthrow tyrants everywhere as it did in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bush was careful to add some qualifying phrases: ``This is not primarily the task of arms. . . . America will not impose our own style of government on the unwilling.'' But he could demonstrate his sincerity by using diplomacy, not the threat of war, to improve relations with such countries as North Korea and Iran and to mend the alliances - strained by the Iraq war - that have sustained the realm of freedom since the 1940s.
"Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill and would be dishonorable to abandon,'' he said, apparently in reference to the war. ``By our efforts,'' he continued, ``we have lit a fire as well - a fire in the minds of men.'' What Bush didn't say was that the war has also kindled fierce anti-Americanism in the Middle East and an expanding insurgency in Iraq. His second term will be dominated by the need to withdraw from Iraq without leaving the country in chaos.
Bush's invocation of freedom provided an overarching theme for the speech and for his second term, but it is stretching his credibility to equate the overthrow of foreign tyranny with his plan to partially dismantle Social Security, as Bush did in his speech. "We will widen the ownership of homes and business, retirement savings and health insurance,'' he said, invoking the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt. By doing so, he said, "we will give our fellow Americans greater freedom from want and fear.''
Roosevelt, who quickly built an alliance to defeat dictators far more dangerous than Bush will ever face, had a vastly different conception of government's role. In his second inaugural address in 1937, he said: "By using the new materials of social justice we have undertaken to erect on the old foundations a more enduring structure for the better use of future generations.'' Social Security succeeds because it is owned by no one individual but is a common responsibility of the American people.
As he seeks to expand freedom, Bush should not undermine the edifice of economic security that has served Americans well since Roosevelt's era, nor should he erode the national security that Roosevelt developed to provide an enduring bulwark of liberty and tolerance.