"People want to read a lot into it — that this means new aggression, or newly asserted military forces," former President Bush told reporters during a visit to the White House briefing room. "That's not what that speech is about. It's about freedom."
Some who heard the speech on Thursday said it appeared to chart a new course for U.S. relations with other countries, especially those that keep democracy at arms length and have poor records on human rights.
Some Asian nations, for example, expressed concern that the address pointed to a more aggressive foreign policy that could worsen global tensions.
In the address, Bush said: "We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation: The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom which is eternally right."
His father, a seasoned diplomat who was president during the first Iraq war, told reporters that he no longer is up to speed on every detail of foreign relations.
Nonetheless, he said, no one should think the president was being arrogant when he spoke of confronting oppressive leaders as a way to protect U.S. security.
"They certainly ought to not read into it any arrogance on the part of the United States," the former president said.