- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2005

In his State of the Union address, President Bush took the general propositions of freedom and liberty, which he eloquently expressed in his inaugural address two weeks earlier, and applied them programmatically across the geopolitical landscape. Mr. Bush’s rhetorical performance and his sweeping agenda were as bold and assertive as any oration emanating from the well of the House of Representatives since FDR delivered his “day of infamy” address on Dec. 8, 1941. We are supportive.

No sooner had Mr. Bush delivered his inaugural address outlining an agenda amounting to nothing less than “ending tyranny in the world” than White House officials were quick to emphasize the next day that the speech was simply an attempt to clarify “the values we cherish.” The day after that, the president’s father, former President George H.W. Bush, warned against extrapolating from the inaugural speech, which declared that “America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world.” With those backpedaling caveats setting the stage for the State of the Union address, Mr. Bush essentially remounted his rhetorical motorcycle and shot forward once again Wednesday evening. “America will stand with the allies of freedom to support Democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond,” the president announced, repeating that “the ultimate goal” was “ending tyranny in our world.”

It was the geographic and operational specificity that was as stunning as it was sweeping. “Syria still allows its territory and parts of Lebanon to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region,” Mr. Bush charged. Identifying Iran as “the world’s primary state sponsor of terror,” he told the Iranian regime that it “must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing and end its support for terror.” For all practical purposes, he encouraged the Iranian people to throw off their bonds: “As you stand for your own liberty,” he told them, “America stands with you.” The president called upon both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, by name, to reform their political processes by expanding democratic institutions.

It is more than noteworthy when a president precisely identifies what is unacceptable to him, America and, implicitly, our military.

On the domestic front, the president was straightforward about the options available to policy-makers in preventing Social Security’s eventual bankruptcy. While Democrats boisterously rejected Mr. Bush’s use of the term “bankrupt,” that is exactly the condition that will apply to Social Security in 2042, when, based on current law and trends, promised benefits will be automatically reduced by more than 25 percent. That’s what happens in bankruptcy: Prior commitments are ratcheted down to levels that bankrupt entities, such as Social Security in 2042, can afford to pay.

We will admit that we are not enthusiastic about some of the details of the president’s likely proposal. That includes delaying the implementation of personal retirement accounts until 2009 and then gradually phasing them in at levels that strike us as too low to have the long-term effect that will be needed. On the other hand, the president bravely catalogued the unpleasant elements that could become part of Social Security reform. In addition, he was clearly right to tell his congressional audience that they and he “share a responsibility: We must pass reforms that solve the financial problems of Social Security once and for all.” From our congressional sources, we were pleased to learn that there is a reasonable expectation that the president’s Social Security initiative could lead to a final-passage vote in the House and Senate by the end of the year.

The unambiguously uplifting tone of the speech was ever so clearly defined by two moments. Who could not help but feel anything but pride for America’s sacrifice and achievement when Safia Taleb al Suhail, whose father was assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s intelligence service 11 years ago, rose from her seat next to first lady Laura Bush and repeatedly alternated two hand gestures — the globally recognized “V” (for both victory and peace) and an extended index finger proudly displaying the stain that confirmed the vote she cast in Sunday’s historic Iraqi elections? Later, Mrs. al Suhail was embraced by Janet Norwood, whose son, Marine Sgt. Byron Norwood, was killed during the assault on Fallujah. Even jaded commentators recognized the powerful moment depicted by the embrace.

The State of the Union address was a forcefully and effectively delivered speech by a president in full command of his confidences. Given the breadth, specificity and firmness of Mr. Bush’s words, it can fairly be seen as a State of the World address in which the president of the United States laid out his agenda to other sovereign nations. And he did so with more firmness than that with which presidents often make their case to Congress.

These were words that are going to have historic consequences. If Mr. Bush is forced to act on them, then regimes may change. And if he fails to act on these words, then the credibility of America’s voice will be diminished. We are likely to know the answer within 24 months.


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