- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 28, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) — President George W. Bush was concentrating his State of the Union address Tuesday on the challenges posed by Iraq and terrorism and in promoting prosperity at home.

"This country has many challenges," he will say, according to excerpts of his address released in advance. "We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, other presidents, and other generations.

"We will confront them with focus, and clarity and courage."

The address, his second State of the Union, comes amid a time of anxiety and unease in the country — anxiety over the economy and its long-term prospects, and unease over possible war against Iraq.

Latest public opinion polls indicate a substantial number of people do not believe the president has yet made a strong enough case for a military adventure.

Earlier Tuesday, Bush said his speech was to rally the nation to face the challenges ahead. A statement later from Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., made it clear one of those challenges includes the president convincing the American public on the possible need to go to war.

"The American people, and the world, for that matter, are waiting to hear what the president's decision is and his rationale for it," Biden said from the Senate floor. "We're waiting to hear a clear explanation why war may be the only remaining alternative and what will be expected of them, not only in winning the war, but what will be expected of the American people for us to win the peace."

Bush said Tuesday morning that on the domestic agenda, he would talk about how to spread prosperity, healthcare and the needs of senior citizens. He said he would remind Americans that "solutions to some of the seemingly intractable problems lay in the hearts and souls of our fellow citizens."

The White House said he would outline four specific goals: strengthening the economy by creating more jobs; quality health care for all and prescription drug benefits for seniors; greater energy independence and applying compassion in the tackling of societal problems.

To promote the economy, which Bush has described as just bumping along, Bush has proposed a 10-year, $674 billion economic package that features accelerated tax relief for individuals and small businesses, which create more than half of the nation's jobs.

The package, however, has come under heavy criticism from Democrats and others, who say it would not spur the economy, sets the stage for further deficits and also favors wealthier taxpayers, especially with its proposed end to taxes on stock dividends.

White House officials said the 42-minute address to be delivered before a joint session of Congress at 9 p.m. EST will make the connection between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and the al Qaida network, which has been linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Bush will not, however, present new evidence showing why Iraq must be disarmed by force.

"The qualities of courage and compassion that we strive for in America also determine our conduct abroad," Bush will say, according to the excerpts. "The American flag stands for more than our power and our interests. Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity — the rights of every person and the possibilities of every life.

"This conviction leads us into the world to help the afflicted, and defend the peace, and confound the designs of evil men.

Bush will say the gravest threat "facing America and the world is the war on terror … the gravest danger facing America and the world … is outlaw regimes that see and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons," and who could give or sell those weapons to their terrorist allies.

Iraq and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, he will say, has been given every chance to disarm in accordance with international mandates. But "the dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary, he is deceiving."

Biden, senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, launched his broadside against Bush, saying if the president was sending 250,000 troops to attack Iraq, the American people assumed it was to protect them from a further attack such as Sept. 11.

Biden said Bush aides had made the idea of attacking seem easy when it could involve vast U.S. casualties, enormous financial costs and result in the United States having to post a lengthy, 75,000-person occupying force in Iraq. He said it was the first time in history that an American president was proposing a war at the same that he was calling for a $674 billion tax cut.

Biden's attack also zeroed in on administration foreign policy as a whole, saying it has contributed to a rise in anti-Americanism and distrust around the world, which is based on selfish economic motives, the belief that America's right wing pushes the Bush administration and what is seen as unilateralism.

Biden minced no words.

"All this is compounded by the obvious discussion within the administration, the announcement of a new doctrine of pre-emption that's yet to explain to us, let alone them; the appearance of a great power being petulant when a president stands before the world and says, 'I am growing impatient, I'm getting tired;' the apparent contradiction in the rest of the world's mind of the treatment of the threat from northern Korea, which has weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, has a record of proliferation and has violated international agreements, and we're talking to them, whereas in Iraq it has no nuclear weapons, we can't find the weapons of mass destruction, and there's scant evidence of proliferation."

Biden called on the administration to level with the American people, telling them what is expected of them if the United States goes to war with Iraq, and what would be expected of them if things did not go well.

Tuesday's speech is Bush's second State of the Union address and is the fourth time he has gone before a joint session of Congress.

The direction of his Bush's speech seemed to have shifted since the weekend when administration aides on television interviews talked overwhelmingly about the dangers posed by Iraq. But Bush may be responding to opinion polls of the past several days that indicate Americans do not believe he is concentrating enough on the economy. Bush's approval ratings have fallen lately, though they are high for this point in a presidency.

On Sunday, a day before the U.N. inspectors' report to the Security Council on Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction, Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an address at Davos, Switzerland, that the United States was prepared to take unilateral action in Iraq. Monday, after the U.N. inspectors reported they needed more time for their work, Powell said the United States had made no decision about how to proceed and would study their inspectors' report, which was mandated by Security Council Res. 1441.

Administration officials said undisclosed evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and connections to al Qaida were likely to be released next week. One scenario would be to take a page from the game book of President John F. Kennedy in the Cuban missile crisis and have Powell present the U.S. evidence at the United Nations.

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Monday that the White House should "show proof to the world" that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the United States is facing a credibility gap.

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