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Analysis: Bush's State of Union address

By United Press International   |   Jan. 26, 2003 at 7:00 PM   |   Comments

(Editor's note: The following is a series of reports by UPI writers on President Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 28.)


State of the Union: Bush shoulders world

By RICHARD TOMKINS, UPI White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- When President George W. Bush mounts the podium in the House of Representatives on Jan. 28 to give his annual State of the Union address, he'll do so with a legacy of his first such appearance hanging heavy over the nation.

Iraq, North Korea, and Iran -- each in its own way -- are living up to the "Axis of Evil" label he bestowed upon them a year ago.

Iraq, which through U.S. pressure allowed international weapons inspectors to return to the country, now frustrates the United States with what the administration sees as hide-and-seek games of deception over the weapons of mass destruction that Washington insists it has, but has so far failed to convincingly and irrefutably prove.

North Korea -- bellicose and belligerent as ever -- says the axis label is proof of Washington's aggressive military intent, and is set to resume nuclear warhead production unless it's bought off with a formal non-aggression pact and a robust aid package.

Iran, the quietist of the three, is continuing to pursue the construction of nuclear facilities -- with Russian help -- that the United States suspects may be part of a quest for nuclear power status.

All three are seen as having the potential -- if they have not done so already -- of passing on weapons technology to terrorist groups, given their strong anti-Americanism.

"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world," Bush said last year. "By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States.

"In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic."

But the costs of engagement are considerable.

The costs of transporting more than 60,000 troops to the Gulf to double the ranks of U.S. military personnel already there are monumental when the deployment of aircraft and ships are added in.

The exact figure is not available, but it is believed to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

If it comes to war with Iraq, the price tag for American taxpayers is expected to exceed the $60 billion spent on the 43-day 1991 conflict. In 1991, coalition members shouldered much of the cost; Bush's current "coalition of the willing" seems mainly limited to Britain and a few smaller countries without the resources to significantly contribute to the war chest.

But there are other costs as well in an Iraq conflict that the Bush administration will need to consider: the risk of further alienating Arab allies and the Arab man in the street, who so far see the looming conflict as proof of U.S. bullying and avarice for oil; and further estrangement from European allies, worried by what they see as a go-it-alone administration.

Whether it comes to war, the conflict with Iraq is already affecting the economy, with stocks going up or down on the latest news about the standoff.

"We've got one of the most challenging periods in recent history, in which we have four tasks we are dealing with simultaneously -- al Qaida and terrorism, Iraq, North Korea, and relations with the rest of the world and the growing anti-Americanism we're seeing in it," Sandy Berger, national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, told United Press International.

"A lot pivots on Iraq and whether we can build a broad coalition. Saddam Hussein is a threat and must be confronted," but U.S. action must be "seen as a result of Saddam Hussein's intransigence and not American impatience," he said.

The Bush administration's relations with European allies have been shaky from the start. Other leaders doubted his foreign policy abilities, and were dismayed by the United States' refusal to go along with the Kyoto global warming treaty, its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court accord, and its scrapping of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, negotiated in the 1970s with the now-defunct Soviet Union.

Lawrence Korb, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former Defense Department official under President Reagan, sees many of the problems facing Bush as the fruit of seeds he planted.

"I would say that Bush, first of all, got carried away with what the Greeks call hubris last January," he said. "He broadened it from a war against terrorism with a global reach to a war against evil. Then if you look at his West Point speech, his National Security Strategy in September, we weren't only going to wipe out evil, we were going to create democracy.

"That's humble foreign policy?" he asked, harking back to Bush's campaign statements. "It's chaotic ... he hasn't made up his mind where he wants to go on foreign policy."

Korb says Bush's change of direction is symptomatic of siding at various times with one or the other of competing groups in the administration: the more unilateralist and confrontational faction of Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the more multilateralist, cooperative faction of Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In his West Point speech, Bush highlighted the necessity of the United States sometimes taking pre-emptive, unilateral military action against terrorist and rogue states, which threaten the United States.

It created an uproar among Democrats and European allies, who had become more accustomed to the multilateral approach of Clinton.

Pre-emption, however, was only three paragraphs in the 31-page National Strategy document and was in the context of terrorism and rogue nations.

Berger pointed out that even Clinton acted unilaterally when needed. In 1996, he sent aircraft carriers to the Taiwan Straits to counter Beijing's saber rattling, and in 1998 ordered an attack on Iraq with cruise missiles for barring weapons inspectors.

Bush has pursued a diplomatic approach with North Korea over its violating and then scrapping a 1994 agreement with Washington to abandon its plutonium-producing nuclear program. A no-negotiations, no-inducement policy has since given way to the offer of talks and possible resumption of aid amid pressure from Japan and South Korea, as Pyongyang became more belligerent in what was believed a game of nuclear brinksmanship to obtain more economic assistance.

Bush, Berger said, was "lurching in the right direction" with North Korea, which represents a more dangerous short-term threat to the United States than Iraq, since there is a danger of "plutonium becoming North Korea's cash crop."

"The end result of that is it (plutonium-based radioactive material or weapons) could end up in New York, Seoul or Moscow."

According to Berger and others, the focus of U.S. policy under Bush stems from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington by al Qaida terrorists that killed nearly 3,000 people.

For the first time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis under President John F. Kennedy, Berger said, "national security has become personal security. People are worried about an outside threat to themselves and their families."

"We are facing a terrorist enemy that continues to be viable," Berger said. "Al Qaida continues to be lethal in terms of threats to my family. That is the No. 1 threat."

Confronting that threat has meant the United States has had to deal with strange bedfellows and turn a blind eye to offensive behavior. It continues to support Saudi Arabia; Pakistan, which has proliferated weapons technology; and Uzbekistan, which is not known for its democratic tendencies.

It has also led to Washington being less engaged in the Middle East peace process and working less closely with Latin America, Berger said.

America, he said, needs to exert its moral leadership more.

The White House has also had to ignore Russian actions in Chechnya against Muslim separatists and China's handling of its minorities. It has also failed to pressure Israel more strongly over its actions in the occupied territories, Korb said.

"I wish it were a pure black and white world, but the fact is that you've got to compromise -- not your principles -- by staging carefully how you act on different things," said Larry Wortzel of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

In the year ahead, Bush will continue to face the challenges brought about by Sept. 11's trauma. The war on terrorism, in all its permutations and tangents, will continue to be pursued. It's what the American public wants, a sentiment backed up by Bush's continuing high marks in public opinion polls on his handling of the war on terrorism. And that is likely what he will say on Jan. 28.


Axis of Evil: Where are they now?

By ELI J. LAKE, UPI State Department Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Within 48 hours of the President's 2002 State of the Union address, the State Department issued a set of talking points to its embassies on the speech, stressing that U.S. policy had not changed with George W. Bush's declaration that Iran, Iraq and North Korea formed an "axis of evil."

The talking points were followed up with phone calls to foreign capitals by senior State Department officials aimed at "calming nerves and correcting misimpressions," according to one American diplomat at the time.

The damage control seemed necessary, observers said. In Seoul, the South Korean government was asking that Bush not renege on his intentions to talk to their Stalinist neighbors to the north. In Paris, the foreign minister called the speech simplistic.

And in Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell's predecessor, Madeleine Albright, said the speech revealed the White House's own disorderly approach to foreign policy.

Soon, Powell had gathered his senior staff and instructed them to stop walking back Bush's speech. But by then it was clear that for the next year, the State Department would be fighting a rear-guard action against the Bush rhetoric and that of other administration voices intent on articulating a foreign policy that mirrored his vision.

The Axis of Evil was a huge victory for the Reagan wing of the Republican Party that has insisted that American foreign policy ought to have a moral dimension. By nationalizing the war on terrorism and focusing it on three states with flags, armies and intelligence services, Bush handed his hawks a mission that recalled the comfortable territory of the Cold War.

And just as the neoconservative gospel holds that the 50-year battle against the Soviets was won with former President Ronald Reagan's robust defense spending and his support for insurgents in Angola, Nicaragua and Afghanistan, many of the policy prescriptions for the new war on terrorism from the Bush hard-liners was to follow along these lines.

For a brief moment, after the State of the Union speech, it looked as if war with Iraq was inevitable; bags of cash would be headed to Iranian protestors seeking a referendum on their government's legitimacy and there would be no discussions with North Korea.

All three countries had been designated evil. The object was not to figure out how to live in a world with them in it, but to defeat them. But like Reagan's Evil Empire speech a generation earlier, Bush's rhetoric got ahead of his government's foreign policy.

Only one day before Bush attacked Iran's "unelected few" for repressing "the Iranian people's hope for freedom," U.S. diplomats were meeting with representatives from the Mullah's regime about formalizing a diplomatic channel opened after Sept. 11 to discuss the post-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

For the next 12 months, the administration hawks would be fighting the diplomats to derail their agenda of engaging the country's moderates. One year later, the policy on Iran is a little bit of both. While the White House gives lip service to the anti-regime protestors seeking change in Iran, it is aligning with two major Iraqi rebel groups backed by Iran's revolutionary guards, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and Al-Dawa, a set of Islamist cells inside Iraq with links to master terrorist Imadh Mugniyah.

Only three weeks after he accused Pyongyang of starving its own people while pursuing weapons of mass destruction, Bush stood at the line that divides the Korean Peninsula and reiterated his call for dialogue with the north. In November, the United States said it had sent its last shipment of heavy fuel oil to North Korea under a 1994 agreement, only to offer the possibility of fuel aid two months later even though North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had kicked out international weapons inspectors and announced intentions to pull out of the Non-proliferation Treaty.

In Iraq, Bush decided in August to give Saddam Hussein one more chance to 'fess up to the weapons stockpiles he should have destroyed after the Gulf War. Bush took his case for war to the United Nations.

Now, the U.N. inspections team says it will need until at least March to complete is work. Is this the same President Bush who said: "The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons?"

Reflecting the pitched battles inside the Bush administration, one senior conservative told United Press International he had a copy of the speech in his pocket to remind policy adversaries of the President's words with him at interagency meetings.

The best examples of the schizophrenic pulls and pushes of an administration divided are the confusing signals sent by an interdiction incident in December.

On Dec. 10, Spanish vessels in the Arabian Sea, using American intelligence, pulled over an unmarked ship carrying 15 North Korean Scud missiles under bags of cement bound for Yemen. The Spanish announced the find to the world.

After the Yemenis protested, the Spanish reluctantly handed the weapons over to Sanaa, on instructions from Washington.


State of the Union: On the home front

By KATHY A. GAMBRELL, UPI White House Reporter

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- The U.S. war against terror and the possibility of a conflict with Iraq aren't likely to slow President George W. Bush's domestic legislative agenda, political analysts said.

"I think Bush is shrewd enough and savvy enough and popular enough with the American people that he will be able to get most of his agenda through, but not all of it," said Brad Watson, an assistant professor of political science at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa.

Bush is set to step before Congress next week and deliver his State of the Union address as the United States faces a possible war with Iraq, unemployment hovers at 6 percent and the administration continues its pursuit of those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The White House said Friday that Bush views the State of the Union as a moment to talk about the major challenges the nation faces both at home and abroad. On Tuesday, Bush will cover four major issues, according to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

"There will be the economy and creating jobs for the American people," Fleischer said. "It will be making America a more caring, compassionate place. It will be the importance of providing health care for the American people. And it'll also be a focus on security -- security both on the home front, the homeland, and national security."

The shape of Bush's proposed Medicare reform emerged Friday as published reports said it would create a prescription drug benefit for patients who choose a new medical program based on managed care.

Last year, Bush's speech focused on the newly forged war on terrorism; this year, his effort to disarm Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, homeland security and the continuing war in Afghanistan will likely overshadow domestic issues, political analysts said.

A Gallup poll conducted last week showed that Americans' exuberance about the Bush administration has subsided, and their concern about the nation's economy has surged.

Democrats say they have a better economic stimulus plan that will create 1 million jobs, compared to Bush's proposal that they say will generate 190,000 jobs.

Some of Bush's legislative priorities made it past Washington partisanship in the last congressional session while others remained stalled in the Senate, mired in bickering and disputes over spending in an era of rising federal deficits. Early in the last session, Bush signed into law a $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut and oversaw a dramatic overhaul of public education with his reform package in 2001, both cornerstones of his 2000 presidential campaign. He also succeeded in convincing Congress that the 170,000 workers charged with domestic security needed their own multibillion-dollar, Cabinet-level home, the Department of Homeland Security.

And he soundly rebuked business leaders who refused to be what Bush came to call "good corporate citizens" by signing a law mandating corporate officers personally guarantee information given to stockholders and expanding stock sale blackouts to include corporate officers.

The 108th Congress that convened earlier this month saw a turnover in leadership with Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., installed as Senate majority leader, and Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, leading the House.

Democrats say Bush has not lived up to the promises he has made the American people. States, they said, are buckling under the burden of mounting budget deficits as they try to fund federal education initiatives and welfare programs.

They are also concerned about the inclusion of so-called pro-family initiatives ingrained in the welfare reauthorization bill and in faith-based programs supported by the White House, policy experts said. Women's groups and civil rights organizations have decried pro-family add-ons in the welfare bill that would promote marriage and abstinence.

Analysts say Bush will have little problem getting approval for those somewhat controversial add-ons. They say Bush will get what he wants most through negotiation.

Watson told United Press International that a weak president would not have the success that Bush will enjoy as Congress's new session gets underway. Bush's ability to get consensus for his legislative priorities will emerge from his talent for the art of the political deal. Watson said the president will make compromises on small points within his domestic package but will walk away with the majority of proposals intact.

"He will compromise on the peripheral things, but the central items will go through," Watson said. "He will get credit for that. People tend to remember the accomplishments and forget about the compromises. They forget the package that was delivered is different from the package that was promised."

David Ryden, an associate professor of political science at Hope College in Michigan, has watched Bush's move to incorporate faith-based initiatives into government programs. Ryden said much of what Bush has done has been either by executive order or by changing department regulations to expand funding to include religious groups.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a staunch supporter of domestic policies that provides help for low-income families, children and the elderly, spoke Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington and criticized Bush's policies, saying that the last thing America needed was policies that "divide us at home by race or riches."

"The ideals of America are not realized, but denied by a relentless ideology of tax giveaways for the few, and then even more tax giveaways for the few," Kennedy said.

Kennedy said that in a closely divided Congress, Republicans want more tax cuts while Democrats want more resources for education, health care and other key domestic priorities.

"Instead of seeking a victory of party, both sides should do what's right for the country," Kennedy said. "Together in Congress we should first determine how much we can afford overall, based on the 10-year budget estimates, and then allocate half to tax cuts, including both the president's recent proposal and the portion of the tax cuts already enacted that have not yet taken effect, and the other half to other important priorities. This approach will demonstrate our new bipartisan common purpose for America."

Kennedy spokesman Jim Manley said Republicans and the White House will have to be open to compromise to achieve their legislative goals on domestic issues.

"Unless they are willing to negotiate in good faith they won't have the 60 votes necessary to get much of their agenda through the Senate," Manley said. "We're going to require compromise."

Watson predicts some Democrats will support Bush's call for making his 2001 tax cuts permanent. It was Democrats who balked at Bush's tax package that sent refund checks into the mailboxes of millions of Americans last year. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a $147 billion federal budget deficit in 2003 that Democrats blame on the tax cut.

Manley called the tax cuts a bad idea.

"We can't afford them," Manley said. "There are exploding deficits."

Democrats have put forth their own economic stimulus package, which they call a "fair, fast-acting and fiscally responsible" plan aimed at jumpstarting the economy.

"We talk about infrastructure projects being moved quickly, those that are ready to go to create jobs immediately and to help protect our country," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the House's Democratic leader.

Capitol Hill lawmakers were also unable to come to agreement on providing prescription drugs for seniors, on Medicare and Social Security reform, or on making Bush's 2001 tax cuts permanent.

A Gallup poll showed that 54 percent of Americans age 65 and older are satisfied with Social Security and Medicare, while a majority of younger Americans, 62 percent, were dissatisfied.

Manley said the White House could expect a fight if the administration sought to change Medicare.

"Efforts to privatize Medicare will be met with stiff resistance on Capitol Hill," Manley said.

Watson predicts that the White House and Congress will come to some compromise on prescription drugs and Medicare reform, but Worldcom, Enron and other corporate scandals have soured the American public's desire to revamp Social Security with privatized accounts. He does believe Bush will be successful in making his tax cuts permanent.

Manley agreed that Social Security reform is likely off the table.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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