In about 40 minutes, President George W. Bush will deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, the American public, and the world. I'm anxious to watch the event and to see what President Bush says in his speech. I'm really curious what he's going to say about Iraq, and about America's national security generally. More to follow...
Update: Here are some initial thoughts on the speech, which I'm listening to right now and reading online via the Washington Post's transcript of the prepared text. (The Post also has the actual transcript of the speech as it was delivered up on its site.)
1. Guests of the First Lady. As one would expect, the gallery contains more military personnel this year than I've ever seen. Three of the soldiers caught my eye because they were wearing Army greens -- they're the three U.S. Army soldiers featured on the cover of Time magazine's "Person of the Year" issue designating the "American Soldier" as this year's person of the year. Later in the speech, when the President spoke to a military issue, the ABC cameras panned to these three soldiers.
2. Terrorism and complacency. The President makes a big point when he says there have been no attacks since 2001 on U.S. soil -- but that there have been many attacks overseas against U.S. interests and allies.
Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11th, 2001 -- over two years without an attack on American soil -- and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting -- and false. The killing has continued in Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Riyadh, Mombassa, Jerusalem, Istanbul, and Baghdad. The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. And by our will and courage, this danger will be defeated.The point of this is that America cannot afford to become complacent. Therefore, the President says, we should continue to give America's security community the tools it needs to fight terrorism, namely, the USA PATRIOT Act. Here's what he had to say:
Inside the United States, where the war began, we must continue to give homeland security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us. And one of those essential tools is the PATRIOT Act, which allows Federal law enforcement to better share information, to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells, and to seize their assets. For years, we have used similar provisions to catch embezzlers and drug traffickers. If these methods are good for hunting criminals, they are even more important for hunting terrorists. Key provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire next year. [A smattering of applause fills the hall at this point.] The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens -- you need to renew the PATRIOT Act.Analysis: This is very interesting. Many legal scholars and political observers see this piece of legislation as a political albatross for the administration -- a lightning rod for criticism that the Bush Administration doesn't respect American civil rights or civil liberties. It looks like the President is going to come out swinging on this point, and I'm not sure how that's going to go over. As a policy matter, I support most of the measures in the USA PATRIOT Act, because of my understanding of how they work and how law enforcement uses these tools today. But I also recognize that this Act has a tremendous political cost, and I'm not sure the President has the political capital he had in October 2001 when he got this Act passed the first time.
Later in the speech, President Bush offers another interesting thought on the nature of the global war on terrorism. In the legal community, there has been a great debate for the last two years (and much longer in some sections) about the nature of this conflict -- and whether terrorism is a problem of law or a problem of war. Here's what the President had to say:
I know that some people question if America is really in a war at all. They view terrorism more as a crime -- a problem to be solved mainly with law enforcement and indictments. After the World Trade Center was first attacked in 1993, some of the guilty were indicted, tried, convicted, and sent to prison. But the matter was not settled. The terrorists were still training and plotting in other nations, and drawing up more ambitious plans. After the chaos and carnage of September 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. The terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States -- and war is what they got.That's pretty unequivocal, but it's not that surprising. I've been reading the legal briefs from the Justice Department in the Hamdi, Padilla and Al-Odah cases, and this is the kind of rhetoric in every single brief about the nature of the war on terrorism. By invoking the war paradigm, the President may be able to employ the powers typically reserved for a Commander-in-Chief in wartime. I'm not sure whether the Supreme Court will uphold the President's vision in the Al-Odah and Hamdi cases which it has agreed to review. But this President's vision is clear, and it has been one of the defining hallmarks of the way the legal war against terrorism has been conducted.
3. The Global War on Terrorism, and America's Strategy of Preemption. At various points in the speech, President Bush says that America will continue its aggressive foreign policy which has led to the war in Iraq and efforts to disarm Iran and North Korea with diplomacy. The President also cites Libya as an example of how the preemption strategy has worked, and how the example of Iraq has made other regimes think twice about holding onto WMD. Later in the speech, the President effectively draws a line in the sand over diplomacy, saying that America will do what it has to do, notwithstanding what other nations and institutions say. It's a pretty strong part of the speech, and one that will probably go over poorly with Europe and others in the international community.
As part of the offensive against terror, we are also confronting the regimes that harbor and support terrorists, and could supply them with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. The United States and our allies are determined: We refuse to live in the shadow of this ultimate danger.Analysis: So, we're not going to see any change in the way that America does business. I agree that America ought to take a leadership role in the world, and that we ought to do the right thing even when the UN Security Council doesn't sign on. Kosovo was one such war, and there will doubtless be more in the future. But the aftermath of Iraq has shown us the value of international help, and we ought not spit in the face of the international community so brazenly. One line stands out in particular: "America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people." That's a given -- Art. 51 of the UN Charter states clearly that every state has the inherent right to self defense. But I think it's wrong to put this kind of a marker down on the table; it undermines every international institution that stands for the rule of law over nations -- even the institutions we subscribe to like NATO.
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Because of American leadership and resolve, the world is changing for the better. Last month, the leader of Libya voluntarily pledged to disclose and dismantle all of his regime's weapons of mass destruction programs, including a uranium enrichment project for nuclear weapons. Colonel Qadhafi correctly judged that his country would be better off, and far more secure, without weapons of mass murder. Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible ? and no one can now doubt the word of America.
Different threats require different strategies. Along with nations in the region, we are insisting that North Korea eliminate its nuclear program. America and the international community are demanding that Iran meet its commitments and not develop nuclear weapons. America is committed to keeping the world's most dangerous weapons out of the hands of the world's most dangerous regimes.
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Some in this chamber, and in our country, did not support the liberation of Iraq. Objections to war often come from principled motives. But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. We are seeking all the facts -- already the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day. Had we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening the United Nations and encouraging defiance by dictators around the world. Iraq's torture chambers would still be filled with victims -- terrified and innocent. The killing fields of Iraq -- where hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children vanished into the sands -- would still be known only to the killers. For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein's regime is a better and safer place.
Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq. As we debate at home, we must never ignore the vital contributions of our international partners, or dismiss their sacrifices. From the beginning, America has sought international support for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have gained much support. There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many nations, and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.
4. Iraq and Afghanistan. The President obviously wanted to tell an optimistic -- but realistic -- story about the struggle to build a new Iraq. I think he did a pretty good job of doing so, though I think he downplayed the nature of the threat there. The President also talked about Afghanistan a great deal -- almost disproportionately for the amount of spirit, blood and treasure the U.S. has invested there right now.
The first to see our determination were the Taliban, who made Afghanistan the primary training base of al-Qaida killers. As of this month, that country has a new constitution, guaranteeing free elections and full participation by women. Businesses are opening, health care centers are being established, and the boys and girls of Afghanistan are back in school. With help from the new Afghan Army, our coalition is leading aggressive raids against surviving members of the Taliban and al-Qaida. The men and women of Afghanistan are building a nation that is free, and proud, and fighting terror -- and America is honored to be their friend.Analysis: Obviously, the President wanted to tell a 'good news' story about the progress of the war on terrorism in its two combat theaters, Iraq and Afghanistan. But let's take a closer look at what was said and not said. The President never mentioned Osama Bin Laden -- not once. But he mentioned Saddam Hussein plenty of times. Osama's name is conspicuous by its absence, and indeed, the President did not really speak in much detail about Al Qaeda at all. However, he framed everything about Iraq in terms of the global war on terrorism, and the need to change this regime so that it could not support terrorism or acquire weapons of mass destruction. Given the lack of fidelity in our intelligence about those two matters, I was surprised to see this focus in the President's speech.
Since we last met in this chamber, combat forces of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Poland, and other countries enforced the demands of the United Nations, ended the rule of Saddam Hussein -- and the people of Iraq are free. Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters. Men who ran away from our troops in battle are now dispersed and attack from the shadows.
These killers, joined by foreign terrorists, are a serious, continuing danger. Yet we are making progress against them. The once all-powerful ruler of Iraq was found in a hole, and now sits in a prison cell. Of the top 55 officials of the former regime, we have captured or killed 45. Our forces are on the offensive, leading over 1,600 patrols a day, and conducting an average of 180 raids every week. We are dealing with these thugs in Iraq, just as surely as we dealt with Saddam Hussein's evil regime.
The work of building a new Iraq is hard, and it is right. And America has always been willing to do what it takes for what is right. Last January, Iraq's only law was the whim of one brutal man. Today our coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law, with a bill of rights. We are working with Iraqis and the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty by the end of June. As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all in their power to spread violence and fear. They are trying to shake the will of our country and our friends -- but the United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom.
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And the men and women of the American military -- they have taken the hardest duty. We have seen their skill and courage in armored charges, and midnight raids, and lonely hours on faithful watch. We have seen the joy when they return, and felt the sorrow when one is lost. I have had the honor of meeting our servicemen and women at many posts, from the deck of a carrier in the Pacific, to a mess hall in Baghdad. Many of our troops are listening tonight. And I want you and your families to know: America is proud of you. And my Administration, and this Congress, will give you the resources you need to fight and win the war on terror.
Second, while Afghanistan is certainly better off today than it was in 2001, it is not as well off as it should be. I don't think it's true that we have completely shifted our focus away from Afghanistan to fight in Iraq, and that we have completely neglected this nation that incubated Al Qaeda. But I do think that we have not met our burden for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and that we have missed many opportunities over the past two years. That said, I don't think this issue (or this country) has much traction in the minds of the American public. Events in Iraq have reduced Afghanistan to an operational and political sideshow, and I think that President Bush is okay with that.
Third, the President made no mention of the casualty count in Iraq, or the heavy cost that America may yet have to pay in order to stabilize that country. It makes some political sense to downplay those statistics, and to focus on good news metrics like the number of schools constructed. But by ignoring the negative news, the President made himself seem less credible as well. He also missed the opportunity to gird the American public for future sacrifice, and to justify the sacrifices made thus far to the American public. Right or wrong, the most visible metric for the American people right now is the number of American KIA in Iraq. I don't think the Commander-in-Chief should have completely ignored that.
Finally, the President pledged to give soldiers the resources they need to fight the war on terrorism. I thought this part was well said, and that Congress and the President should give our soldiers what they need. That's a no-brainer. It's very hard to prioritize the defense budget when almost everything has some reasonable purpose -- and where many things are thought to be mission-essential. But the really hard part is to make the tough decisions about when and where to employ our military so that the military's capabilities aren't overtaxed by the missions we give them. With so much of our military now committed to Iraq and Afghanistan, we need to think really hard about any future endeavors abroad. It's not that we can't afford it -- we probably can if we mobilize large numbers of reservists and blow apart the federal budget. It's about asking whether this price is worth it.