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Bush Says U.S. Will Not Retreat From The World

Bush emphasized the need to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil (epa) WASHINGTON, 1 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has said he will not back down from his aggressive foreign policy, which has contributed greatly to his recent low approval ratings among the American public. In the president's annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on 31 January, he said that to back down now would amount to isolationism.

Bush said that during his final three years as president, he will continue the war on international terrorism, continue his course in the Iraq war, and continue his efforts to spread democracy in the world.

"Our enemies and our friends can be certain: the United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil."

'False Comfort Of Isolationism'

Bush said he rejects what he called "the false comfort of isolationism."

This foreign policy -- combined with his administration's poor response to Hurricane Katrina five months ago -- made 2005 a bad year for Bush. Major polls have put his approval ratings around 40 percent for the past two months.

In addition, Bush's year-old effort to spread democracy around the world -- especially in the Middle East -- has led to some results unwanted in Washington. Last week, Hamas, which espouses the destruction of Israel, won a landslide majority in the Palestinian parliament.

Bush said last night, as he has said before, that his administration won't deal with Hamas until it recognizes Israel's right to exist.

Modest Proposals

If Bush is retreating at all, it is from grand new plans. All the initiatives he announced in the speech were modest and were mostly domestic. They included studies on the federal retirement and medical-aid systems, greater emphasis on science and mathematics in the nation's schools, and more research on alternate energy sources.

On energy, Bush said it's time for America to reduce its dependence on imported oil to maintain its competitiveness in the world economy.

Bush shakes hands with Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito after delivering his speech (epa)

"Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy, and here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," Bush said. "The best way to break this addiction is through technology."

The Search For Renewable Energy Sources

Bush urged new and broader research into alternate sources of energy, including ethanol, an alcohol-based substitute to gasoline. He said his goal is to make ethanol so practical that the country could cut its Middle East oil imports 75 percent by 2025.

One of those so-called "unstable" sources of oil is Iran, which Bush once called part of the "axis of evil," along with Iraq and North Korea. Iran now appears certain to face being reported to the UN Security Council for resuming nuclear research, which the United States and Europe fear is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Speaking Directly To The Iranian People

Bush said Iran must not be permitted to have such an arsenal. Yet he stressed that his argument is only with the government in Tehran, not with the Iranian people.

"Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran," Bush said. "America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran."

Bush also did not deviate from his longstanding theme of being resolute in the war against international terrorism, whether against the remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the insurgents in Iraq, or Al-Qaeda elsewhere.

"We remain on the offensive against terror networks," he said. "We have killed or captured many of their leaders -- and for the others, their day will come. We remain on the offensive in Afghanistan -- where a fine president [Hamid Karzai] and national assembly are fighting terror while building the institutions of a new democracy. And we are on the offensive in Iraq, with a clear plan for victory."

Bad Poll Numbers

Iraq aside, security against terror is an issue that Bush likes to associate with himself and fellow members of the Republican Party, according to Robert Spitzer, a professor of political science at the State University of New York at Cortland.

Spitzer cites polls that give high marks to Bush and the Republicans on overall security issues, even though a majority of Americans now disapprove of his handling of the Iraq war. He says this is important because one-third of the seats in the U.S. Senate and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be contested in the elections this November.

Republicans now hold a slim majority in each house. But historically, a president's party tends to do poorly in congressional elections during years in which the president himself is not running for re-election.

By promoting his and his party's efforts against terrorism, Spitzer says, Bush hopes to maintain and even improve the Republicans' edge in Congress.

"Foreign policy and the country's concern about national security was really the linchpin issue in his reelection, and it's probably the Republicans' best hope for holding on to Congress in 2006," Spitzer says. "That is, if Americans are concerned about security, if they feel that Bush and the Republicans are still doing a good job protecting the country, fighting terrorism, then that will help the Republicans in the elections this fall."

Some observers had expected Bush not to dwell on foreign policy, given his low approval ratings on Iraq and the unexpected victory for Hamas in the Palestinian elections.

But Spitzer says it would be unlike Bush not to mention foreign policy because that would amount to admitting failure.