SOTU Thoughts

I wanted to blog more about Bush’s State of the Union speech yesterday. Despite the fact that it’s been covered to death, I’m never one to avoid giving a throughly dead horse a few whacks.

Here’s a compendium of some of the best moments.

In this century, the greatest environmental progress will come about not through endless lawsuits or command-and-control regulations, but through technology and innovation. Tonight I’m proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles.

A single chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car – producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free.

Join me in this important innovation to make our air significantly cleaner, and our country much less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

To me, this is one of the most important parts of the domestic side of Bush’s speech. This is exactly what the environmentalists wanted to see – a kind of alternative energy Manhattan Project – with a free-market twist. To me, this could potentially be as important as Kennedy’s call for a moon landing in the 1960’s. Converting to a hydrogen economy would have long-lasting benefits for the US economy that would be nothing short of revolutionary.

As much as my conservative/libertarian side decries the use of federal money rather than free-market research, this plan could give research agencies the kind of kick in the pants they need to take this technology to the next level. If this pans out, Bush will have established himself as one of the most foreward-looking Presidents in recent history. (Not to mention his recent support of Project Orion-style nuclear spacecraft propulsion.)

Still, watch the usual suspects still accuse Bush of being an anti-science tool of the oil companies.

Another cause of hopelessness is addiction to drugs. Addiction crowds out friendship, ambition, moral conviction, and reduces all the richness of life to a single destructive desire.

Upon hearing that, I half expected Bush to say "I know because I’ve been there…" Then again, it was clear from the tone of his voice that he was speaking from experience on that subject.

AIDS can be prevented. Anti-retroviral drugs can extend life for many years. And the cost of those drugs has dropped from $12,000 a year to under $300 a year – which places a tremendous possibility within our grasp. Ladies and gentlemen, seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many.

The rhetoric contains shades of Churchill, and had a Democratic President proposed such a plan the world would be lining up to present him with a Nobel Peace Prize. Expect no such movement for Bush, although this plan could well make him deserving of one.

Now for the foreign policy section, where much of the meat of the speech lies:

To date, we’ve arrested or otherwise dealt with many key commanders of al Qaeda. They include a man who directed logistics and funding for the September the 11th attacks; the chief of al Qaeda operations in the Persian Gulf, who planned the bombings of our embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole; an al Qaeda operations chief from Southeast Asia; a former director of al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan; a key al Qaeda operative in Europe; a major al Qaeda leader in Yemen. All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way – they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.

That last line was a real Texas moment, and probably the line that generated the most applause for a lot of people.

Different threats require different strategies. In Iran, we continue to see a government that represses its people, pursues weapons of mass destruction, and supports terror. We also see Iranian citizens risking intimidation and death as they speak out for liberty and human rights and democracy. Iranians, like all people, have a right to choose their own government and determine their own destiny – and the United States supports their aspirations to live in freedom.

The first point is important – what works for Iraq does not for North Korea, as has been long argued. The second is nothing less than earth-shattering. Bush has acknowledged the Iranian movement for freedom – now he needs to support such acknowledgement with action. The reaction from Tehran will be very interesting, and it is clear that the reform movement just got a very strong wind in their sails from the US. With luck, it will lead to increased pressure on the Iranian theocracy.

On the Korean Peninsula, an oppressive regime rules a people living in fear and starvation. Throughout the 1990s, the United States relied on a negotiated framework to keep North Korea from gaining nuclear weapons. We now know that that regime was deceiving the world, and developing those weapons all along. And today the North Korean regime is using its nuclear program to incite fear and seek concessions. America and the world will not be blackmailed.

If Bush is willing to put this into practice and hold the line on North Korea, he’ll have redeemed his earlier mixed messages about the situation. However, a degree of skepticism over that is not unwarranted.

Our nation and the world must learn the lessons of the Korean Peninsula and not allow an even greater threat to rise up in Iraq. A brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, will not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the United States.

This is an argument that had to be made. It’s good that President Bush did make it. If we want to avoid another North Korean standoff, we have to disarm Saddam now. Except in the case of Iraq, such a standoff would be dramatically more dangerous.

Year after year, Saddam Hussein has gone to elaborate lengths, spent enormous sums, taken great risks to build and keep weapons of mass destruction. But why? The only possible explanation, the only possible use he could have for those weapons, is to dominate, intimidate, or attack.

Another very important point. If Saddam thought that containment would work, there would be no point to developing weapons of mass destruction. Saddam’s actions are predicated on the assumption that he can use a WMD to gain leverage with the rest of the world to do as he pleases. Thankfully the US will stand firm against such an intolerable scenario.

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.

Bush essentially torpedoed the "lets wait for an imminent threat" and the "Saddam can be contained" memes in one fell stroke. Again, this is something that the President needed to say.

The dictator who is assembling the world’s most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages — leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind, or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained — by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning.

The subtext to this message: the anti-war crowd is covering for such inhuman actions. Not dealing with Saddam is as morally reprehensible as ignoring the Holocaust, despite what groups like ANSWER might argue.

The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm. America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, and our friends and our allies. The United States will ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on February the 5th to consider the facts of Iraq’s ongoing defiance of the world. Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraqi’s legal — Iraq’s illegal weapons programs, its attempt to hide those weapons from inspectors, and its links to terrorist groups.

I’ve the feeling this is the day when we present a very damning case and draw our line in the sand. We’re already at the edge of no return – on February 5th, we will likely cross the line.

Americans are a resolute people who have risen to every test of our time. Adversity has revealed the character of our country, to the world and to ourselves. America is a strong nation, and honorable in the use of our strength. We exercise power without conquest, and we sacrifice for the liberty of strangers.

The subtext: we rebuilt both France and Germany, and those ungrateful bastards better not forget it…

Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.

No doubt this phrase will drive many anti-religious extremists into fits of apoplexy. Then again, the founding principles of this country were that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. There’s nothing extreme about such a position – rather it’s a fundamental acknowledgement that no government has the right to abridge those rights. It is the bedrock of a just society, but there will be many who will hear the word "God" and their anti-religious intolerance will cause them to ignore the real point of the message.

All in all, this was really two speeches in one. The first was a laundry list of proposals and policies. They were well-intentioned policies, and some were exceptionally groundbreaking, but the first half simply lacked the focus and power of Bush’s wartime rhetoric.

The second half showed why Bush has earned the respect of so many. The qualities that Bush represents: a deep and abiding personal faith, a strong set of values, and a dogged determination are qualities which are indispensible in a wartime leader. The points on Iraq were made logically and clearly, and much that needed to be said about why we must go to war were said. Granted, there are other things that must be addressed before the hammer falls, but those will likely come in time.

What truly struck me about this speech is how forward-thinking it was. Plans like AIDS relief for Africa and hydrogen fuel cells are plans that should reach across ideological lines. While ideological conservatives may find fault with such measures, if Bush can responsibly see to it that these policies are carried out they have the potential to transform our world.

The leftist image of Bush is one of a crazed fundamentalist, a warmonger, and an anti-intellectual. Yet the man who delivered that speech was none of those things – and the more the left tries to demonize him with those terms, the more his humanity, his faith, and his compassion seem to come out.

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