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U.S.: Bush Lays Out Fighting Vision For America In State Of Union Address

  • Jeffrey Donovan

President George W. Bush is calling on Americans to back a war on terrorism that he says is just beginning. Praising the country for its efforts since the 11 September attacks, Bush used his first State of the Union address to rally the country around what he calls a fight of good versus evil.

Washington, 30 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- President George W. Bush told the American people last night that despite unprecedented threats, their nation has never been stronger. But he warned that the war on terrorism is only just beginning.

In his first State of the Union speech since being elected -- which was interrupted at least 70 times by applause from both houses of the U.S. Congress -- Bush set forth a fighting vision for Washington, vowing to take on "thousands of terrorists" who are still targeting America around the world and singling out North Korea, Iran, and Iraq as an "axis of evil."

But as Bush promised to extend the reach of American military power wherever it may be needed, he also said the U.S. will not impose its culture on the rest of the world as it seeks to bring human dignity to all.

Amid unparalleled security, America's three branches of government -- the Supreme Court, Congress, and the executive Cabinet -- gathered in the Capitol building, which officials say may have been targeted during the September terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who since the attacks has often not appeared with Bush due to security concerns, sat behind the president in his customary seat during the speech. Hamid Karzai, the interim leader of Afghanistan, was Bush's guest of honor.

In his opening words, Bush said that -- despite the September attacks that killed some 3,000 people -- America is standing tall: "As we gather tonight, our nation is at war, our economy is in recession, and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet the state of our union has never been stronger."

Pointing to a smiling Karzai, who received a standing ovation, Bush said America has accomplished much since hijacked jetliners brought down New York's World Trade Center towers and severely damaged the Pentagon.

"In four short months, our nation has comforted the victims, begun to rebuild New York and the Pentagon, rallied a great coalition, captured, arrested and rid the world of thousands of terrorists, destroyed Afghanistan's terrorist training camps, saved a people from starvation, and freed a country from brutal oppression."

But he said much work remains to be done. He said terrorist documents found in Afghanistan include diagrams of American nuclear power and water plants, instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of U.S. cities and descriptions of U.S. landmarks around the world. And he said that terrorist training camps, though destroyed in Afghanistan, still exist in other countries.

"What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning. Most of the 19 men who hijacked planes on 11 September were trained in Afghanistan's camps, and so were tens of thousands of others. Thousands of dangerous killers schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs set to go off without warning."

Bush said the U.S. must steadfastly pursue two objectives: to disrupt the work of terrorists and bring them to justice, and prevent them and their state supporters from obtaining chemical, biological or nuclear arms.

While he singled out Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf for his efforts to crack down on extremists, Bush said other countries are of key concern and could attack the U.S. or other nations. Bush said the "price of indifference would be catastrophic."

"North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens. Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom. Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade. This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children."

Bush's words seem to confirm the view of many analysts who have speculated in recent weeks that Iraq could be the next target of the war on terrorism. Many nations in Europe, the Islamic world, Russia, and China oppose U.S. military action in Iraq, which Washington accuses of developing weapons of mass destruction.

Despite what appears to be growing international reluctance to back taking the war to other countries such as Iraq, Bush said the fight against terrorism is allowing the U.S. to work in novel ways with such nations as Russia, India, and China. He said the U.S. will work with any nations that want to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the ability to kill innocent people.

But he added that America will not wait to be attacked again: "I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

Bush said the war on terrorism is welcomed by all people living under oppressive governments. As an example, he said Afghans greeted the fall of the Taliban militia "with song and celebration." He said the U.S. will continue to defend liberty and justice around the world because they are universal values embraced by all peoples.

"We have no intention of imposing our culture, but America will always stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance."

Bush also tried to shore up Congressional support for his budget -- which includes the largest hike in military spending in decades -- and the domestic agenda. Democrats are seeking to support Bush's war effort, while differing on issues such as the handling of the economy.