News Analysis: Bush speaks on Iraq, economy

In his second State of the Union address George W. Bush sought to reassure the country that his attention was focused as much on the economic woes of the world’s last remaining superpower as it was on its foreign policy.

Steeped in partisan political rhetoric and an almost Wilsonian championing of American ideals, Bush called on Congress to support his economic, social and military agendas.

The address was essentially two speeches. The first, a typical Republican stump speech on the upcoming executive agenda for Congress, a rallying cry for legislators to endorse and support tax cuts and Medicare reform and a token mentioning of the president’s opposition to human cloning and partial birth abortion. The domestic and social issues were eclipsed by the gravity of the president’s words on Iraq.

Bush did not mention Osama bin Laden or the Axis of Evil, though he briefly touched on Iran and North Korea.

While the evidence for military action in Iraq was not the all-encompassing case many skeptics of a potential war hoped for, it was an enumeration of U.S. grievances with the “outlaw” regime. The president also announced that Secretary of State Colin Powell would present a more complete dossier of Iraqi violations to the United Nations next week.

Despite the forcefulness of the public enumeration of U.S. grievances, what weapons Hussein had and may still have, there was little new evidence that would qualify as a cassus belli for military action against Saddam Hussein.

The repeated phrase “(Saddam Hussein) has not accounted for this material and he has given no evidence that he has destroyed them” was the rallying cry for military action. While this mantra was powerful as a rhetorical tool, in substance it may have weakened the president’s case.

The president said Iraq attempted to purchase aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production, however, lead weapons inspector Mohamed ElBaradei at the United Nations Monday said his teams had concluded that aluminum tubes Iraq had tried to import were earmarked for missile programs and not for a nuclear program. This direct contradiction of the UN weapons inspectors, without further evidence, was an odd addition to the address.

The president also tried to link Iraq to terrorist groups, though evidence of these connections were vague and shrouded in the perennial evidence obtained from “intelligence sources and secret communications.” While secret information has been the basis for the administration’s aggressive stance towards Iraq, the use of such sources does little to dissuade skeptics who question the evidence against the Hussein regime.

The address also established the willingness of the Bush administration to fight a war without the full support of allied countries around the world. “Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people,” Bush said.

The president’s willingness to act unilaterally may be the most significant component of the address, changing the precedent for coalition-building that has dominated military interventions under past administrations.

The address was one of Bush’s most powerful, if simply for the gravity of the current geopolitical situation. With crises in Iraq and North Korea and a domestic economy that is sluggish at best, the State of the Union address left a clear indication of the direction the president wants to move the county.

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