Bush urges victory in Iraq, cuts in gas in State of the Union
PresidentBushonJan.23pleaded with Congress to give his new strategy for victory in the struggle in Iraq a chance because “America must not fail in Iraq.”
Defeat in Iraq, he said, would be “grievousandfar-reaching”because the fighting in Iraq is part of a broaderstruggleagainstIslamicextremists across the Middle East and stretching to the farther reaches of the globe.
He proposed wide-ranging domestic goals in his 50-minute State of the Union address, proposing to balance the budget with no new taxes over the next five years, slash gasolineconsumptionby20percent over the next 10 years, double the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to 1.5 billion barrels of oil over the next 20 years, offer tax benefits for Americans who buy their own health insurance, create a “temporary worker program” as the first step in comprehensiveimmigrationreform and “remain a clear voice for freedom” in Cuba, Belarus and Burma.
The domestic goals were relatively modest, but the president was at his most impassioned in arguing that the war in Iraq must not be abandoned.
America faces “a generational strugglethatwillcontinuelongafter youandIhaveturnedourdutiesover to others,” he said. “That is why it is importanttoworktogethersoournationcanseethisgreateffortthrough.
“For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger. [. . . ] To win the war on terror, we must take the fight to the enemy. Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation.”
Democrats,whonowcontrolboth theHouseandtheSenate,satquietly as Republicans stood in a raucous ovationwhenthepresidentdeclared “nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America [. . . ] to succeed in Iraq.” Vice President Dick Cheney often stood to applaud as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remained seated, unsmiling.
Mr.Bushavoidedafocusonmajor initiatives on contentious matters that divide the two parties, as he did in 2005, for example, when he made major Social Security reform a central theme of his speech, only to see it fail.
HefocusedinsteadonDemocratfriendly issues, calling on Congress to enact immigration reform this year, set up new health care tax breaksby2009,increasethemilitary by nearly 100,000 members in the next five years, double the Strategic Petroleum Reserve by 2027 and cut congressionalearmarksinhalfinthe next fiscal year.
As he did three weeks ago, the presidentsaidtheonlywaytosecure the war-torn country is to send in thousands of additional troops.
“Our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success. Many in thischamberunderstandthatAmerica must not fail in Iraq — because you understand that the consequencesoffailurewouldbegrievous and far-reaching,” he said.
Democrats, many of whom support resolutions of opposition to the president’s plan, quickly repeated their opposition in the wake of the speech.
“The president took us into this war recklessly,” said Sen. James H. WebbofVirginia,whohasbeeninofficelessthanamonth,whodelivered the Democratic response. “The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought; nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction,” including “strong regionally based diplomacy” and “a formula that will in short order allow our combat forces to leave Iraq.”
The president urged Congress to unite in the struggle against internationalterrorismasAmericansdid in the days after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“We went into this largely united —inourassumptionsandinourconvictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chancetowork,”Mr.Bushsaid.“And Iaskyoutosupportourtroopsinthe field, and those on their way.”
Mr. Bush acknowledged that terroristshavemadeinroadsacrossthe Middle East and said sectarian violence and insurgents have outstripped American forces in Iraq.
“This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in. Every one of us 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 United States cannot withdraw.
“IfAmericanforcesstepbackbefore Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi governmentwouldbeoverrunbyextremists on all sides. [. . . ] For America, this is a nightmare scenario. On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.”
Mr. Bush sought at several points to soothe harsh partisan feelings, openinghisaddressbynotingtheascendancy of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,thefirstwomantoheadeither chamber of Congress.
It was “high privilege and distinct honor,” he said, echoing Mrs. Pelosi’swordsintroducinghim,tobe thefirstpresidentevertostarttheaddress by thanking “Madame Speaker.” As the gathered lawmakersandofficialsgaveastandingovation, Mr. Bush turned from his lecternandshookMrs.Pelosi’shand.
At that moment, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Ohio Democrat, flexed her arms in the boxer’s stance, as Mrs. Pelosi did at her swearing-in week.
After a rare round of bipartisan applause, Mr. Bush reached out to Democrats,challengingthenewmajoritytoworkwithRepublicanstoget things done.
“Congress has changed, but our responsibilities have not,” the president said. “We are not the first to comeherewithgovernmentdivided anduncertaintyintheair.Likemany before us, we can work through our differences and achieve big things for the American people.”
Despite growing rancor between the two parties — Mrs. Pelosi two weeks ago accused the president of swiftly enacting his “surge” plan to prevent opponents on Capitol Hill fromblockingthestrategy,wordsthe White House labeled “poisonous” — Mr. Bush said that “both parties and both branches should work in close consultation.”
“Our citizens don’t much care whichsideoftheaislewesiton—as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done,” he said.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.
President Bush on Jan. 23