Counting words

Washington Post columnist Fred Hiatt notes how counting words in speeches can help in understanding the fundamentally different world views of the US and European governments these days.

In his inaugural address Bush used the word “freedom” 27 times. Twenty-one more “freedoms” graced his State of the Union speech.

On Saturday German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s speech was the opening event of the Munich Conference on Security Policy, an annual gathering of U.S. and European defense and foreign policy bigwigs. Schroeder (whose speech was read by his defense minister when the chancellor fell ill) touched on many of the same subjects that Bush did: Middle East peace, terrorism, 21st-century threats and 21st-century defenses.

Here’s how many times Schroeder used the word “freedom”: zero. By contrast he cited “stability” or “instability” or “stabilization” or “stabilizing” eight times.

Is Schroeder longing for the Kissingerian good old days? I would imagine Henry the K has spoken of stability far more often than freedom during his public career and since.

Hiatt has several other interesting observations, including this:

There is much talk about facing the “root causes” of terrorism. This used to be code for criticizing Bush’s bellicosity. Now that Bush is dwelling on root causes, too, the Europeans argue that he’s picked the wrong one: tyranny, instead of poverty.

Obviously tyranny and poverty are closely intertwined in much of the world, and it’s wrong to pretend that one or the other doesn’t matter. It’s a valid criticism of the US that it devotes a much smaller share of its GDP to foreign aid than many other countries. But how many billions in foreign aid have been wasted over the decades due to the grandiose projects and flat-out corruption of dictatorships and kleptocracies? It may be a statement of the obvious to say that fighting tyranny and fighting poverty go hand-in-hand, but is the US or Europe fully prepared to act on this understanding?