Bush says war on terror unfinished
STATE OF THE UNION: The US president said that failing to take action against Iraq would have allowed Saddam Hussein to construct weapons of mass destruction and warned that terrorists continue to pose a threat
REUTERS , WASHINGTON
Thursday, Jan 22, 2004, Page 1
US President George W. Bush made a defiant defense of the Iraq war on Tuesday and urged Americans to stick with his leadership in an election-year State of the Union address that offered a point-by-point rebuttal of his Democratic challengers.
"We have not come all this way -- through tragedy, and trial and war -- only to falter and leave our work unfinished," Bush said in the chamber of the House of Representatives before a joint session of Congress and millions watching on television.
Seeking to capture the momentum going into a hotly contested presidential contest, Bush declared the state of the union "confident and strong" and set out an election year, stay-the-course agenda sprinkled with modest domestic proposals and warnings that the memory of Sept. 11, 2001, requires a tough approach to terrorism.
Responding to some voters' concerns that he has mishandled the domestic agenda, he proposed making his tax cuts permanent and called for giving small businesses the right to band together and negotiate lower health insurance rates. He proposed job training grants for unemployed workers.
At a time when Democrats battling for their party's presidential nomination are lobbing attacks against him, Bush said Americans "face a choice" and can either go forward with him or turn back.
"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," he said in his 54-minute speech.
"We can press on with economic growth, and reforms in education and Medicare -- or we can turn back to the old policies and old divisions," he said.
Bush spoke a day after the Iowa Democratic caucuses that saw Massachusetts Senator John Kerry charge to the head of a crowded field. Republican strategists said Kerry could offer Bush a tougher fight for re-election than Iowa's third-place finisher, former Vermont governor Howard Dean.
Following the president's address, Kerry said, "There's just two different worlds here -- the world the president talks about and the world that Americans are living and I think that's what we're going to see unfold over the course of these next months."
A new poll by Zogby International said Bush looked vulnerable. It gave him a 49 percent job approval rating, dropping from 53 percent in mid-December.
Some of his most impassioned language was in defending the Iraq war against Democrats who say he invaded without UN support based on faulty intelligence about weapons of mass destruction, which have never been found.
Bush used last year's address to make the case against Iraq, citing various charges that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was trying to build a nuclear weapon.
This year, Bush said chief weapons hunter David Kay, while finding no actual weapons, had identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction programs. He did not mention that Kay has been considering leaving his job.
"Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day," Bush said. As he spoke, Senator Edward Kennedy, a Democrat, could be seen shaking his head in disagreement.
To critics that the US went to war without UN support, Bush said 34 countries were allies and there is a difference between leading a coalition and "submitting to the objections of a few," meaning opponents like France and Germany.
"America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country," he said.
Bush called for a renewal of the Patriot Act that increased law enforcement powers in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Several Democrats drew a flinty stare from the president by applauding when he said the act is set to expire next year. Many Democrats feel the act encroaches on civil rights.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi responded in a statement that Bush has pursued a "go-it-alone foreign policy that leaves us isolated abroad."
"American taxpayers are bearing almost all the cost -- a colossal US$120 billion and rising. More importantly, American troops are enduring almost all the casualties," she said.
Bush made no apologies for his tough approach to the war on terrorism, dismissing what he said were those who question whether America is really in a war and view terrorism more as a crime.