It’s been on Americans’ collective mind for the last few months.
In fact, there is little doubt that people across the country tuned in to President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address to hear what he has to say about a possible war on Iraq.
But, when it came to Saddam Hussein, Bush kept his public waiting. He discussed economic reform. He mused about the environment, envisioning a cleaner America. He bragged about homeland security. He even commented about the situations in Iran, Korea and Afghanistan.
Finally, nearly 50 minutes into the address, Bush finally uttered the name of his nemesis. After that, he did not disappoint, using up the rest of his one hour, six minute speech to spiritedly explain his position.
The White House said this week that the president’s address would be a rallying cry to the nation. And now, people in power are watching poll ratings to see if the speech did anything to garner support for a strike on Iraq.
It’s been many years since there has been a foreign affairs issue in the United States which the two sides are more divided. Supporters for the war have been numerous if not as vocal. Dissenters have made their presence felt, shouting in the streets of Washington just a few weekends ago.
Bush, as he has for several months, made his intentions starkly clear Tuesday. He told the American people that he has asked for the United Nations Security Council to convene on Feb. 5. In that meeting, the administration will listen to U.N. discoveries while presenting its own evidence.
If the administration is not satisfied, then, he said, the United States will go to war.
“We will consult,” Bush said. “We will lead a coalition to disarm him.”
But, despite that forceful statement, the 15 or so minutes that Bush spoke about Iraq were characterized by strong, one-line statements and some careful speech-writing.
Bush’s obvious intention was to bring the war home to Americans. A war in a faraway land is easy to dislike, but when the danger is real and at home, support rises.
Bush presented his evidence that Hussein is concealing weapons of mass destruction, which he said will be used to “dominate, intimidate or attack … (used to) resume conquest and create deadly havoc.” Bush said that Hussein had ties to al-Qaida, which, he said, could deliver a weapon onto American soil.
Then Bush described, as he sees it, the consequences of not acting now, trying to bring it home.
“One (weapon is needed) to bring a day of horror like none we’ve ever known,” Bush said. “I will do everything in my power to make sure that day never comes.”
And, Bush said, the United States must act now to avoid a Sept. 11-like surprise attack.
“Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting (victims) on notice before an attack?” Bush said.
In addition to his efforts of putting Americans at a sense of urgency, Bush vividly described some of what he said are Hussein’s methods of torture. The brutal descriptions of “acid on the skin,” “mutilation (by a) drill,” rape and burning were probably an attempt by Bush to both horrify and enrage Americans into demanding action.
It was after executing those two tactics that Bush delivered his firm intention to go to war. And, as a further tactic, Bush told Congress and the public that war was “forced on us.” Moments later, he left the podium.
There was obviously a lot of thought given to the speech. But, what affect will it have?
With the current divisiveness in the country, probably not too much. Some people may be persuaded by Bush’s arguments. But, for the most part, Bush’s speech gave supporters a reason to support and dissenters a reason to protest.
And what about the other 45 minutes he was at the podium?
It sounded, for the most part, like the usual State of the Union address. Presidents, at times, seem interchangeable. Bush, like Bill Clinton, like his father and most other presidents, talked about education, the economy, God, strong values, the environment and health care. And, of course, the state of the union is good.
All presidents want those issues to be improved. It is the how that is important.
There were, in Bush’s address, a few revealing comments.Bush began his speech by explaining how he will improve the economy. That was probably a smart move, since he has been accused of concentrating on foreign affairs while the economy has failed. By leading off with his economic plan, he made that seem like top priority.
Bush leaned hard on his plan to move up planned tax cuts and remove the marriage penalty. He again said that by putting more money in Americans’ pockets, the economy will improve.
In addition, Bush said he will cut the “unfair double taxation” on investors and help small businesses.
In addition, Bush said he will raise federal spending by 4 percent. That number, he said, was not random.
“Federal spending should not rise faster than the paychecks of American families,” Bush said.
While Republicans cheered his comments on the economy, Democrats on the other side of the aisle shook their heads. The Bush economic plan has been hotly debated in Congress, and it appeared Tuesday that the debate will continue.
Most notable in Bush’s discussion of health care reform was a call for reduced lawsuits on hospitals and doctors.
“Because of excessive litigation, everyone pays more for medical care,” Bush said.
Environmentally, Bush said, not shockingly, that he wants cleaner air. He will accomplish that goal, he said, by allocating $1.2 billion for research in developing cleaner hydrogen-burning automobiles.
“With a new commitment, the first car driven by a child born today will be (hydrogen powered),” Bush said.
But, critics will no doubt argue. With hydrogen power, Bush will no longer have a need for the oil of Iraq and other such countries. Economic warfare is sometimes as powerful as bombs and guns.
Bush got his most positive response from both sides of the aisle when he discussed the problem of AIDS in Africa. The virus has wreaked havoc on the continent, largely, Bush said, because of a lack of medication. In fact, he said, most people who contract the disease are told to “go home and die.”
“In an age of miraculous medicine, no one should have to hear those words,” Bush said.
Bush’s proposal will send $15 billion during the next five years to Africa and Caribbean countries.
It was on that note, maybe his most agreed upon of the whole night, that Bush launched into his discussion of terrorism and Iraq, introducing homeland protection plans, such as Project Bio-Shield.
How will Bush’s speech be received? Obviously, the president made an attempt early in the speech to reach out to both Democratic issues and those Americans who are worried about a sputtering economy.
But, as is the nature of the post-Sept. 11 world, much of what he said before 9:50 p.m. will be lost in debate over his comments on Iraq. About that, however, the American people should now know clearly where he stands.