Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bush's rallying call fails to impress Democrats

Give war a chance - Bush asks for support in his new Iraqi strategy
After nearly an hour of introduction and debate on CNN’s Late Edition, President George W Bush last night gave his State of the Nation address to a largely sceptical congress. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was bubbling with excitement as he went over the details of what the President might say and alongside him Paula Zahn described the upcoming address as a ‘tough assignment’.
Iraq, immigration, health insurance, and the environment were the issues the President had to address as he walked a ‘political tightrope’ according to these two political pundits. Zahn asked whether his words would “unite or further divide a new congress and a sceptical country”. The Presidential approval rating has taken a continuous slide over the last 5 years. According to a CNN/USA Today poll his approval rating slipped from 84% in January 2002 to 60% in January 2003. The war in Iraq has only pushed the support for the President lower still. By January 2004 the percentage had fallen to 53% and by January 2006 it had fallen further still to 43%. The most recent figures show President Bush has only a 34% approval rating, the lowest ever approval rating for a President at this time in office. Specifically with relation to his proposal to send more troops to Iraq, polls indicate more than 60% of the country against such a decision. With regards the effort to win the global ‘War on Terror’, many were are just as disillusioned. According to a CNN poll, 28% thought the US was winning in the ‘War on Terror’. However, 54% believed neither side was winning, and 17% thought the terrorists were winning. William Schneider, or Bill as he is sometimes referred, CNN’s senior political analyst, described the ‘War on Terror’ as being like the Cold War, in as much as it was “a long a protracted conflict against an elusive enemy with no discernable or decisive outcome in the foreseeable future”. He said that support would “ebb and flow according to events”. But events are not going well at all in the long war which has seen thousands killed and maimed. The United States have lost 3,062 since hostilities begun nearly four years ago. Over 47,000 troops, airmen and navy personnel have been injured over the same period. By comparison other coalition countries have collectively lost 253 personnel since March 2003. Britain, which has been one of America’s closest allies, has lost 130 []. Violence in Afghanistan still continues, although not on the same scale as seen in Iraq. A total of 358 US armed forces have died since 2001. Other coalition losses doubling the overall total to 518 []. But although not on the scale of Iraq, attacks in the country have increased in recent months. There were 139 suicide attacks in 2006 compared to 27 the year before.
After flipping between other correspondents around Washington, the President eventually arrived to deliver his much awaited speech. As he entered, Wilson Livingood, the Sergeant of Arms, introduced him to a House of Representatives led for the first time by a woman Democrat. He shook Nancy Pelosi’s hand and that of vice president Dick Cheney before turning to the applauding audience. Pelosi made the opening introduction saying, “Members of Congress, I have the high privilege and the distinct honour of presenting to you the President of the United States”.
“Thankyou very much, and tonight I have the high privilege and distinct honour of my own as the first president to begin the State of Union message with these words; Madam Speaker”
Nancy Pelosi beamed from ear to ear. And a rapturous applause followed as the president turned once again to shake her hand.

After the formalities he gently entered into first lines of his message. “The right of custom has brought us together at a defining hour where decisions are hard and courage is needed”.
“We enter 2007 with large endeavours underway and others that are ours to begin”. He then went on to outline the importance of a growing economy and said that 41 months of “uninterrupted job growth” showed the strength of America’s economy. “Unemployment is low, inflation is low, wages are rising,” he said, “and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government, but with more enterprise.”
He said he could “eliminate the federal deficit within five years” and without increasing taxes. He pledged more support for the welfare system, particularly with respect to health care. It was “important that all of our citizens have available and affordable health care.” He said that proposed tax thresholds would make “health insurance more affordable” to those on low wages. He also said more funds should also be made available to the educational system. Mr Bush then urged for full support for his “no child left behind act” and to help make it law.

Moving on to the contentious issue of immigration the President said he would “double the size of border patrols” to keep the country secure. The lack of secure borders harmed the “interests of our country” he said. “We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to pass into our country to work on a temporary basis” which, he said, would stop them “trying to sneak in”. This he said would leave “our agents free to chase down drug smugglers, criminals and terrorists”.

On energy he proposed less reliance on foreign supplies of oil which left America “more vulnerable to hostile regimes and to terrorists who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments and raise the price of oil and do great harm to our economy”.
He said it was in our “vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply” and that the “way forward was through technology”. Greater use of “clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean safe nuclear power” should be employed to achieve this goal, he said. He said further research was needed to increase the use of hybrid vehicles and those running on bio-diesel fuel. “We must continue investing in new methods for producing ethanol…using everything from wood-chips, to grasses and agricultural waste”. He then urged congress to help reduce gasoline usage by 20% over the next decade. He said this would achieve a reduction of up to 75% the oil imported from the Middle East. But environmentalists would be concerned at his follow up statement in which he said that America “must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways”. He said, however, that America was on the verge of technological breakthroughs that would make the country less reliant on oil. “These technologies”, he said, “will help us be better stewards of the environment and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change.”

The President then moved on to issues of homeland security. “Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt sorrow that terrorists can cause. We’ve had time to take stock of our situation.” He added that “the horrors that we experienced that September morning were only a glimpse into what the terrorists intend for us, unless we stop them”, and “to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy”.
“The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over”, but, “our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen, we cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented”.

George W Bush then outlined some of the achievements in the global War on Terror. “We stopped an al-Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked aeroplane into the tallest building on the west coast, we broke up a south-east Asian terror cell who were grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al-Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them.”
He said the “evil that rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world and so long as that is the case, America is at war”. The threat to America came not only from al-Qaeda and Sunni extremists but also fro Shi’ite extremists who were “determined to dominate the Middle East”. He added that many take their “direction from the regime in Iran which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah, a group second only to al-Qaeda in the amount of lives it has taken.”
“In the six years since our nation was attacked I wish I could report to you that the dangers have ended, they have not. So it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, find these enemies, and to protect the American people.”

He acknowledged the shift of violence in Iraq to one of sectarianism. “This is not the fight we entered into in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in. Everyone wishes this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk.”

He said the battle could be won and asked for support, “Let us find our resolve and turn events towards victory”.

On Iraq he said he was “giving our troops the reinforcements they need to complete their mission… a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law”. Most of the promised 20,000 troops would secure Baghdad from “the roaming insurgents and death squads”. But he insisted that a proportion of responsibility lies in the hands of the Iraqi government.
“I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance for success”. An early withdrawal could, he suggested, end in a wider conflict and embolden the enemy. “For America this is a nightmare scenario, for the enemy it is the objective”. He then spoke to those who opposed his plan, saying, “Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq and I ask you to give it a chance to work, and I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way”.

At the end of his 50 minute address he said, “This is a decent and honourable country, and resilient too. We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve met challenges and faced dangers, and we know more lie ahead. Yet we can go forward with confidence because the state of our union is strong. Our cause in the world is right. And tonight our cause goes on. God bless.”

The request for support in his latest offensive has already fallen on deaf ears. Today Democrats have already taken the first steps to repudiate the President’s Iraqi strategy [CNN / BBC]

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