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Bush hails achievements, but Democrats see broken promises
January 21, 2004
WASHINGTON Laying out campaign themes, President Bush is hailing progress fighting terrorism, recharging the economy and helping Americans afford health care. But Democrats say his election-year State of the Union address underscores how paltry his achievements have been.
The morning after he addressed a national television audience and a joint session of Congress, Bush was embarking Wednesday on a two-day swing through Ohio, Arizona and New Mexico to highlight his job training and counterterrorism proposals.
Those were among several plans he said he would offer in his 2005 budget — a blueprint to be released Feb. 2 that will be constrained by record deficits expected to approach $500 billion this year.
Even as Democrats scrapped among themselves over who would oppose him in November, the president touted his administration’s successes: the toppling and capture of Saddam Hussein, the revival of economic growth, and the passage of major tax cuts and a Medicare prescription drug benefit.
‘‘America this evening is a nation called to great responsibilities,’’ Bush said in his 54-minute address Tuesday evening. ‘‘And we are rising to meet them.’’
The address contained few major new proposals, underlining the limitations of a budget burdened by deficits and a campaign year in which far-reaching legislative accomplishments probably will be hard to come by.
From Congress to the presidential campaign trail in New Hampshire, where next week’s presidential primary will be held, Democrats balked. They said Bush had ignored the job losses, ballooning budget deficits, diplomatic reversals and growing ranks of Americans without health insurance that have characterized his administration.
‘‘He promised us a humble foreign policy. Instead, he’s alienated our allies, lost the respect of the world community, and cost 500 brave young men and women their lives’’ in Iraq, said retired Gen. Wesley Clark.
‘‘President Bush’s speech was not so much of a State of the Union as a state of his re-election campaign,’’ said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. ‘‘But the president’s words do not change the reality that his priorities are out of touch with the priorities of most Americans.’’
Bush touted a cluster of issues sure to energize conservative voters who are the core of the Republican Party.
He said he would support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and a woman if courts struck down a law mandating that. He asked lawmakers to renew expiring portions of the USA Patriot Act that strengthen the investigative reach of law enforcement agencies, double funds for abstinence education and codify his administration’s award of federal grants to religious charities.
He also took a swipe at Democrats who have challenged the path he took in Iraq, who have said his tax cuts were an unnecessary boon to the rich and that his Medicare expansion and education initiatives were inadequate.
He said the nation needed to stay the course against terrorism and admonished those who would ‘‘turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us.’’
‘‘We have not come all this way — through tragedy and trial and war — only to falter and leave our work unfinished,’’ the president said.
Democrats, however, saw Bush and his policies as entirely dispensable — and employed rhetoric aimed at their own supporters.
‘‘The State of the Union may look rosy from the White House balcony or the suites of George Bush’s wealthiest donors, but hardworking Americans will see through this president’s effort to wrap his radical agenda with a compassionate ribbon,’’ said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, another of the Democratic presidential hopefuls.
‘‘This president still doesn’t understand what’s happening in living rooms across this country,’’ said another White House contender, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. ‘‘He doesn’t see what’s happening in our economy, in the workplace and to families everywhere.’’
By far, the most expensive proposal in his speech was one he has made repeatedly: Making his already enacted cuts in personal income and other taxes permanent. That has a price tag estimated at $2 trillion, and an uncertain fate in Congress, considering projections for year after year of huge budget deficits.
Bush also called for more money — likely to be relatively small amounts — for spreading democratic institutions abroad, helping students performing poorly in math in reading, training prisoners for future employment and testing for drugs in schools.
He proposed tax breaks to help low-income people afford health care, and renewed his call to let people divert part of their Social Security taxes into retirement accounts whose investment they would control.
Congress is unlikely to touch an overhaul of politically sensitive Social Security at least until next year, after the elections.

U.S. improving world, Bush says
State of the Union speech: Kicks off re-election campaign by saying war on terror must be fought to the end
Sheldon Alberts, with files from Anne Dawson
CanWest News Service
President George W. Bush reviews his State of the Union address with his advisors in the Oval Office yesterday. In the hour-long speech, Bush credited his administration with keeping U.S. soil free of terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, 2001.
CREDIT: Eric Draper, White House, Reuters

WASHINGTON - George W. Bush trumpeted U.S. military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq as evidence America is changing the world "for the better," in a State of the Union speech designed to portray him as the leader best able to keep the country safe from terrorists.

In his hour-long speech last night, delivered to members of Congress and carried live on U.S. television, the U.S. President bluntly refuted domestic and international critics who opposed the war. He rejected claims the United States acted too soon and without proper authority from the United Nations.

"There is a difference between leading a coalition of many nations and submitting to the objections of a few," he said. "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people."

The Republican President, heading into an election-year against a divided Democratic party, credited his administration with the fact there has not been a single attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001, while vowing to remain vigilant against the continuing threat of terror.

"We have not come all this way, through tragedy, and trial, and war, only to falter and leave our work unfinished," Mr. Bush said.

"Our greatest responsibility is the active defence of the American people.

"Twenty-eight months have passed since Sept. 11, 2001 -- over two years without an attack on American soil -- and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting, and false."

The State of the Union speech doubled as the unofficial kickoff to Mr. Bush's re-election campaign, and the President used it to argue that the best way to maintain national security is to keep him in the White House for another four years.

"We have faced serious challenges together, and now we face a choice," he said.

"We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us," Mr. Bush said.

The President said his administration would remain "on the offensive against the terrorists" and continue to confront regimes that support terror.

Mr. Bush's annual address to the nation lacked the drama of his two most recent State of the Union speeches -- last year's call for global action against Saddam Hussein and 2002's declaration of U.S. resolve against rogue nations Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

Instead it acted more as a bookend to his controversial 2002 'axis of evil' speech, in which he said the United States would not allow outlaw countries to build weapons arsenals that could threaten America's security.

Faced with criticism of his handling of the Iraq war, in which more than 500 U.S. soldiers have died so far, Mr. Bush maintained that the his decision to oust Saddam Hussein had set that country on the path to democracy.

"The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right. And America has always been willing to do what it takes for what is right," Mr. Bush said. In the audience was Adnan Pachachi, the current President of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

"Last January, Iraq's only law was the whim of one brutal man. Today our coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law with a bill of rights."

He said that Afghanistan is also on the path to stability, noting that a new constitution that guarantees elections has made the central Asian nation"free, proud and fighting terror."

"Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better," Mr. Bush said.

He hailed a recent decision by Libya to abandon its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs as evidence that America's approach -- a combination of military action and diplomacy -- was working.

"Nine months of intense negotiations ... succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy did not," he said. "And one reason is clear: for diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible. And no one can now doubt the word of America."

Mr. Bush also addressed criticisms about Washington's failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, saying that there was evidence of Iraqi"weapons-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment" that showed Saddam presented a threat.

The annual State of the Union address is considered a President's most important speech because he delivers it live to Americans on prime-time television. Typically upbeat and overflowing with optimism, the speech takes on added significance in an election year.

The White House timed this year's address to follow on the heels of Monday's Democratic presidential caucuses in Iowa, an apparent effort to grab the spotlight from his opponents as they battle to become the nominee who will challenge him in November's election.

The Democratic candidates have made national security a central theme of their campaign. They have argued that Mr. Bush mishandled the war in Iraq by invading the country without explicit United Nations authority, needlessly alienating longtime allies like Canada, France and Germany.

The Democrats have also charged that Mr. Bush had no workable plan to rebuild the country after Saddam was defeated.

But recent polls have shown that the U.S. military's capture in December of the former Iraqi leader has relieved some of the anxiety about the war among ordinary Americans.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that six in 10 Americans support Mr. Bush's performance in the White House and 56% still believe invading Iraq was a good decision. The survey also found that Mr. Bush holds a 2-to-1 edge over Democrats on issues of national security and the fight against terrorism.

A number of recent surveys have also shown broad dissatisfaction among Americans over Mr. Bush's domestic agenda despite evidence that the U.S. economy is growing at a healthy pace.

Democratic presidential candidates say Mr. Bush's tax cuts benefit primarily wealthy Americans and have attacked him for running up a federal deficit of close to US$500-billion this year.

The White House rewrote much of the State of the Union speech in the last several days to put a greater emphasis on the President's plan for the economy and other pressing issues like health care coverage and education.

Mr. Bush appealed to Congress to take action against the rising cost of health care by increasing the amounts Americans could deposit in tax-free savings accounts to pay for medical expenses. He was to propose a system of tax credits to help pay for private insurance and a ceiling on malpractice awards that drive up health care costs.

"On the critical issue of health care, our goal is to ensure that Americans can choose and afford private health care coverage that best fits their individual needs," he said. "To make insurance more affordable, Congress must act to address rapidly rising health care costs."

On the economy, Mr. Bush told Americans his tax cuts are working and will be permanent.

He was also expected to weigh in on the politically explosive issue of gay marriage by reiterating his view that marriage should be limited to men and women. He was not expected, however, to endorse a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, a move he has been urged to take by conservative family groups in the wake of a recent Massachusetts court decision allowing same-sex unions.

In advance of the speech, Paul Martin, the Prime Minister, said he hoped Mr. Bush could provide evidence that "the American economy is going to continue to be strong." Mr. Martin also said he hoped Mr. Bush would indicate a desire to work closely with America's allies to "essentially deal with the major problems that exist in the world in terms of poverty, in terms of reconstruction in the post-conflict areas."

'No one can now doubt the word of America'

America this evening is a nation called to great responsibilities. And we are rising to meet them. As we gather tonight, hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror. By bringing hope to the oppressed, and delivering justice to the violent, they are making America more secure.


Each day, law enforcement personnel and intelligence officers are tracking terrorist threats . . . the men and women of our new Homeland Security Department are patrolling our coasts and borders. And their vigilance is protecting America.

Americans are proving once again to be the hardest working people in the world. The American economy is growing stronger. The tax relief you passed is working. . . .

We have not come all this way -- through tragedy, and trial, and war -- only to falter and leave our work unfinished. Americans are rising to the tasks of history, and they expect the same of us. In their efforts, their enterprise, and their character, the American people are showing that the state of our union is confident and strong. Our greatest responsibility is the active defense of the American people. Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11th, 2001 . . . and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting -- and false. . . . The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. And by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated.

Inside the United States, where the war began, we must continue to give homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need . . . One of those essential tools is the Patriot Act, which allows federal law enforcement to better share information, to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells, and to seize their assets. . . .If these methods are good for hunting criminals, they are even more important for hunting terrorists. Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens -- you need to renew the Patriot Act.

America is on the offensive against the terrorists who started this war. . . . We are tracking Al Qaeda around the world -- and nearly two-thirds of their known leaders have now been captured or killed. Thousands of very skilled and determined military personnel are on a manhunt, going after the remaining killers who hide in cities and caves -- and, one by one, we will bring the terrorists to justice.

As part of the offensive against terror, we are also confronting the regimes that harbor and support terrorists, and could supply them with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. The United States and our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger.

The first to see our determination were the Taliban, who made Afghanistan the primary training base of Al Qaeda killers. As of this month, that country has a new constitution, guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women. . . . The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free, and proud, and fighting terror -- and America is honored to be their friend.

Since we last met in this chamber, combat forces of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Poland, and other countries enforced the demands of the United Nations, ended the rule of Saddam Hussein -- and the people of Iraq are free. Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters. Men who ran away from our troops in battle are now dispersed and attack from the shadows.

These killers, joined by foreign terrorists, are a serious, continuing danger. Yet we are making progress against them. The once all-powerful ruler of Iraq was found in a hole, and now sits in a prison cell. . . .

The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right. . . . We are working with Iraqis and the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty by the end of June. As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all in their power to spread violence and fear. They are trying to shake the will of our country and our friends -- but the United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. . . .

Month by month, Iraqis are assuming more responsibility for their own security and their own future. And tonight we are honored to welcome one of Iraq's most respected leaders: the current President of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi. . . .

Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better. Last month, the leader of Libya voluntarily pledged to disclose and dismantle all of his regime's weapons of mass destruction programs, including a uranium enrichment project for nuclear weapons. . . . Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible -- and no one can now doubt the word of America. Different threats require different strategies. . . . We are insisting that North Korea eliminate its nuclear program. America and the international community are demanding that Iran meet its commitments and not develop nuclear weapons. America is committed to keeping the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world's most dangerous regimes.

When I came to this rostrum on September 20th, 2001, I brought the police shield of a fallen officer, my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end. I gave to you and to all Americans my complete commitment to securing our country and defeating our enemies. And this pledge, given by one, has been kept by many. . . .

And the men and women of the American military -- they have taken the hardest duty. . . . We have seen the joy when they return, and felt the sorrow when one is lost. . . .Many of our troops are listening tonight. And I want you and your families to know: America is proud of you. And my administration, and this Congress, will give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror.

I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. They view terrorism more as a crime -- a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments. . . .

After the chaos and carnage of September 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States -- and war is what they got. Some in this chamber, and in our country, did not support the liberation of Iraq. Objections to war often come from principled motives. But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. We are seeking all the facts -- already the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day. . . .Iraq's torture chambers would still be filled with victims. . . . The killing fields of Iraq . . . would still be known only to the killers. . . . The world without Saddam Hussein's regime is a better and safer place.

Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners . . .that have committed troops to Iraq. As we debate at home, we must never ignore the vital contributions of our international partners, or dismiss their sacrifices. From the beginning, America has sought international support for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have gained much support. There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many nations, and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.

We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again.

As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny, despair, and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. . . . We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friends. . . .I will send you a proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy, and to focus its new work on the development of free elections, free markets, free press, and free labor unions in the Middle East. And above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. . . . America is a nation with a mission -- and that mission comes from our most basic beliefs. We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire. Our aim is a democratic peace -- a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom.

In these last three years, adversity has also revealed the fundamental strengths of the American economy. We have come through recession, and terrorist attack, and corporate scandals, and the uncertainties of war. And because you acted to stimulate our economy with tax relief, this economy is strong, and growing stronger. . . .

You have lowered taxes for every American who pays income taxes.

Americans took those dollars and put them to work, driving this economy forward. The pace of economic growth in the third quarter of 2003 was the fastest in nearly 20 years. . . .

These numbers confirm that the American people are using their money far better than government would have -- and you were right to return it.

America's growing economy is also a changing economy. . . . Much of our job growth will be found in high-skilled fields like health care and biotechnology. So we must respond by helping more Americans gain the skills to find good jobs. . . .

All skills begin with the basics of reading and math, which are supposed to be learned in the early grades of our schools. Yet for too long, for too many children, those skills were never mastered. By passing the No Child Left Behind Act, you have made the expectation of literacy the law of our country. . . . We are making progress toward excellence for every child.

But the status quo always has defenders. Some want to undermine the No Child Left Behind Act by weakening standards. . . . Yet the results we require are really a matter of common sense: We expect third-graders to read and do math at third-grade level -- and that is not asking too much. . . .

This nation will not go back to the days of simply shuffling children along from grade to grade. . . .I refuse to give up on any child -- and the No Child Left Behind Act is opening the door of opportunity to all of America's children.

At the same time, we must ensure that older students and adults can gain the skills they need to find work now. . . . So tonight I propose a series of measures called Jobs for the 21st Century. This program will provide extra help to middle and high school students who fall behind in reading and math, expand Advanced Placement programs in low-income schools. . . .I propose larger Pell Grants for students who prepare for college with demanding courses in high school. . . . Congress has some unfinished business on the issue of taxes. The tax reductions you passed are set to expire. Unless you act, the unfair tax on marriage will go back up. . . .Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase. What the Congress has given, the Congress should not take away: For the sake of job growth, the tax cuts you passed should be permanent. Our agenda for jobs and growth must help small business owners and employees with relief from needless federal regulation, and protect them from junk and frivolous lawsuits. Consumers and businesses need reliable supplies of energy to make our economy run -- so I urge you to pass legislation to modernize our electricity system . . . and make America less dependent on foreign sources of energy. . . .

Younger workers should have the opportunity to build a nest egg by saving part of their Social Security taxes in a personal retirement account. We should make the Social Security system a source of ownership for the American people. . . .

In two weeks, I will send you a budget that funds the war, protects the homeland, and meets important domestic needs, while limiting the growth in discretionary spending to less than 4 percent. This will require that Congress focus on priorities, cut wasteful spending, and be wise with the people's money. By doing so, we can cut the deficit in half over the next five years.

Tonight I also ask you to reform our immigration laws, so they reflect our values and benefit our economy. I propose a new temporary worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing employers, when no Americans can be found to fill the job. . . .My temporary worker program will preserve the citizenship path for those who respect the law, while bringing millions of hardworking men and women out from the shadows of American life.

Our nation's health care system, like our economy, is also in a time of change. . . .This dramatic progress has brought its own challenge, in the rising costs of medical care and health insurance. Members of Congress, we must work together to help control those costs and extend the benefits of modern medicine throughout our country.

Meeting these goals requires bipartisan effort -- and two months ago, you showed the way. By strengthening Medicare and adding a prescription drug benefit, you kept a basic commitment to our seniors: You are giving them the modern medicine they deserve. . . .

I signed this measure proudly, and any attempt to limit the choices of our seniors, or to take away their prescription drug coverage under Medicare, will meet my veto. On the critical issue of health care, our goal is to ensure that Americans can choose and afford private health care coverage that best fits their individual needs. . . . I urge you to pass Association Health Plans. I ask you to give lower-income Americans a refundable tax credit that would allow millions to buy their own basic health insurance. By computerizing health records, we can avoid dangerous medical mistakes, reduce costs, and improve care. To protect the doctor-patient relationship, and keep good doctors doing good work, we must eliminate wasteful and frivolous medical lawsuits. And tonight I propose that individuals who buy catastrophic health care coverage, as part of our new health savings accounts, be allowed to deduct 100 percent of the premiums from their taxes.

A government-run health care system is the wrong prescription. . . .

We are living in a time of great change. . . . Yet some things endure -- courage and compassion, reverence and integrity, respect for differences of faith and race. The values we try to live by never change. And they are instilled in us by fundamental institutions, such as families . . . religious congregations. These institutions -- these unseen pillars of civilization -- must remain strong in America, and we will defend them.

We must stand with our families to help them raise healthy, responsible children. . . .

One of the worst decisions our children can make is to gamble their lives and futures on drugs. . . .In my budget, I have proposed new funding to continue our aggressive, community-based strategy to reduce demand for illegal drugs. Drug testing in our schools has proven to be an effective part of this effort. So tonight I propose an additional 23 million dollars for schools that want to use drug testing as a tool to save children's lives. The aim here is not to punish children, but to send them this message: We love you, and we don't want to lose you.

To help children make right choices, they need good examples. Athletics play such an important role in our society, but, unfortunately, some in professional sports are not setting much of an example. The use of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids in . . . sports is dangerous, and it sends the wrong message -- that there are shortcuts to accomplishment, and that performance is more important than character. So tonight I call on team owners, union representatives, coaches, and players to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.

To encourage right choices, we must be willing to confront the dangers young people face -- even when they are difficult to talk about. Each year, about three million teenagers contract sexually transmitted diseases that can harm them. . . . In my budget, I propose a grass-roots campaign to help inform families about these medical risks. We will double federal funding for abstinence programs, so schools can teach this fact of life: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Decisions children make now can affect their health and character for the rest of their lives. . . .

A strong America must also value the institution of marriage. I believe we should respect individuals as we take a principled stand for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization. Congress has already taken a stand on this issue by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, signed in 1996 by President Clinton. That statute protects marriage under federal law as the union of a man and a woman, and declares that one state may not redefine marriage for other states. Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.

The outcome of this debate is important -- and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight.

It is also important to strengthen our communities by unleashing the compassion of America's religious institutions. Religious charities of every creed are doing some of the most vital work in our country -- mentoring children, feeding the hungry, taking the hand of the lonely. Yet government has often denied social service grants and contracts to these groups, just because they have a cross or Star of David or crescent on the wall. By executive order, I have opened billions of dollars in grant money to competition that includes faith-based charities. Tonight I ask you to codify this into law. . . .

Tonight I ask you to consider another group of Americans in need of help. This year, some 600,000 inmates will be released from prison back into society. . . . So tonight, I propose a four-year, 300 million dollar Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative to expand job training and placement services, to provide transitional housing, and to help newly released prisoners get mentoring, including from faith-based groups. America is the land of the second chance -- and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.

For all Americans, the last three years have brought tests we did not ask for, and achievements shared by all. By our actions, we have shown what kind of nation we are. In grief, we found the grace to go on. In challenge, we rediscovered the courage and daring of a free people. In victory, we have shown the noble aims and good heart of America. And having come this far, we sense that we live in a time set apart.

I have been a witness to the character of the American people, who have shown calm in times of danger, compassion for one another, and toughness for the long haul. All of us have been partners in a great enterprise. And even some of the youngest understand that we are living in historic times. Last month a girl in Lincoln, R.I. , sent me a letter. It began, "Dear George W. Bush." "If there is anything you know, I Ashley Pearson age 10 can do to help anyone, please send me a letter and tell me what I can do to save our country." She added this P.S.: "If you can send a letter to the troops -- please put, `Ashley Pearson believes in you.' "

Tonight, Ashley, your message to our troops has just been conveyed. And yes, you have some duties yourself. Study hard in school, listen to your mom and dad, help someone in need, and when you and your friends see a man or woman in uniform, say "thank you." And while you do your part, all of us here in this great chamber will do our best to keep you and the rest of America safe and free.

My fellow citizens, we now move forward, with confidence and faith. Our nation is strong and steadfast. The cause we serve is right, because it is the cause of all mankind. The momentum of freedom in our world is unmistakable -- and it is not carried forward by our power alone. We can trust in that greater power who guides the unfolding of the years. And in all that is to come, we can know that His purposes are just and true. . .

Jan. 21, 2004. 06:37 AM
Bush touts terror threat
Insists plotters plan more attacks
Defends Iraq war in speech to nation



WASHINGTON—George W. Bush delivered a spirited election-year defence of his war in Iraq last night, while warning Americans that terrorists still plot attacks on their soil.


The U.S. president told specially invited guests, members of Congress and the nation that American "leadership and resolve" has made the world a better place, but he also had a message for critics who have accused of him of moving unilaterally and weakening traditional global alliances.


The U.S. will always seek to build coalitions, Bush said. And then came the loudest applause of the evening.


That's when, rhyming off countries which have sent troops to Iraq, he said, "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people."


One year after Bush laid out the case for war in Iraq in the same chamber, he acknowledged last night that many to whom he was speaking did not back the war.


While last year's address stressed the danger posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, Bush had a much different take on that threat, without acknowledging those weapons have not been found.


He said his inspectors in Iraq had identified "dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities."


"Had we failed to act," he said, "the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day."


The timing of last night's speech was not accidental, administration officials have conceded.


It was scheduled one day after the first official vote of the 2004 election campaign, the Democratic caucus in Iowa won by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, and was meant to provide Americans with a reminder of who is in charge.


The State of the Union is also about optics, particularly in an election year, and this address was meticulously rehearsed by the president.


He is seeking to appear presidential and above the fray while the Democrats engage in an unseemly political fight.


The president has already lost the bump in public support he received after the capture of Saddam, and he has the backing of 49 per cent of Americans in this highly-polarized pre-election period.


But there was one thing missing in the White House equation — when officials first scheduled the speech for last night, they were hoping to contrast Bush's presidential style with the shrill politicking of former Vermont governor Howard Dean.


Dean's miserable showing in Iowa, however, has sent his campaign reeling and Bush could be looking at a battle with one of two decorated war veterans, either Kerry or Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO commander.


Bush invited the president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, and select members of the U.S. military to the Capitol chamber as his guests to buttress his remarks about the job being done in Iraq — a mission which has now cost more than 500 U.S. lives.


"We have faced serious challenges together," Bush told Americans, "and now we face a choice.


"We can go forward with confidence and resolve or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us.


"We have not come all this way through tragedy, and trial, and war only to falter and leave our work unfinished."


On the domestic side, Bush went further than he has in the past on the question of gay marriage, all but backing a constitutional amendment to sanctify marriage as a union between a man and a woman.


U.S. courts, most recently in Massachusetts, have been moving this country closer to gay marriage, leading some in Congress to look for a way to halt that march.


"If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process," Bush said.


"Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage."


He proposed a federal job training program, health-care savings accounts and proposed his tax cuts, which have been characterized by his Democratic opponents as a benefit only to the rich, be made permanent.


An Associated Press poll released yesterday indicated that the war on terrorism remained top of mind to Americans.


More than one in five (21 per cent) told Ipsos-Public Affairs that the terror threat was still the biggest problem facing the country. Health-care costs were cited by 19 per cent, 18 per cent named the U.S. economy and unemployment was top of mind to 14 per cent.


The war in Iraq was cited by only five per cent, but 13 per cent mentioned Iraq and wars generally.


Bush said the world was a safer place with Saddam in custody.


"The once all-powerful ruler of Iraq was found in a hole, and now sits in a prison cell," he said.


Beyond Iraq, Bush also made reference to the other members of his infamous "axis of evil", the trio of words which defined his 2001 State of the Union.


Washington continues to insist North Korea eliminate its nuclear program and demands Iran keep its commitment not to develop nuclear weapons. But, he added: "Different threats require different strategies."


It was his foreign policy and resolve in Iraq, "where no one can any longer doubt America's word," Bush said, that has won victories in international disarmament, particularly Libya's announcement in December that it would disarm.


In New Hampshire, Democratic presidential candidate Clark said British Prime Minister Tony Blair, not Bush, should get the lion's share of the credit for bringing Libya to heel.


"It was more the economic issues rather than the fear that brought the Libyans there," Clark said.


Dean said Bush would not discuss the lost jobs and 43 million Americans without health care under his presidency.


"The State of the Union may look rosy from the White House balcony or the suites of George Bush's wealthiest donors," Dean said. "But hard-working Americans will see through this president's effort to wrap his radical agenda with a compassionate ribbon."


While Bush repeated his determination to overhaul immigration laws in the U.S., essentially creating a guest worker class for millions of undocumented immigrants, he made no mention of another election-year proposal ushered in with great fanfare just last week: new missions to the moon or Mars.


Additional articles by Tim Harper


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