Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S.: Bush Rallies Americans For Possible War Against Iraq In 'State Of Union' Speech

U.S. President George W. Bush delivered his annual State of the Union address last night to both houses of Congress and a nationwide television audience. He used it to rally support from the American people for a possible war with Iraq, and said the U.S. will soon provide fresh intelligence evidence of Baghdad's weapons programs.

Washington, 29 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush used his State of the Union speech to brace the nation for possible war with Iraq, saying America is prepared to use its full military force to defeat Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

In his yearly address to the nation -- delivered before both houses of Congress -- Bush addressed a range of issues, most notably America's sluggish economy. He also touched on human cloning, AIDS in Africa, and North Korea, and he harshly criticized Iran for continuing to repress its people, pursue arms of mass destruction, and support terrorism.

But Baghdad was Bush's focus.

Condemning Iraq for showing "utter contempt" for United Nations weapons inspectors and for not accounting for thousands of chemical and biological arms and missiles, Bush again said America will lead a coalition to disarm Hussein if the UN fails to act.

"If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means, sparing in every way we can the innocent," he said. "And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military. And we will prevail."

Bush, under growing pressure to provide evidence of Iraq's alleged arms programs, called on the UN Security Council to meet on 5 February to hear Secretary of State Colin Powell present intelligence on Iraq's activities.

Bush said the U.S. has intelligence that Iraq is hiding arms from the inspectors and that Iraqi military officers are posing as scientists for interviews with inspectors. He said Hussein has ordered scientists interviewed by the UN to be killed, along with their families.

Bush said Hussein has not accounted for up to 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulism toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard gas, and VX nerve agent, and upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical weapons.

"If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning," Bush said.

Bush also sought to connect Iraq with Al-Qaeda, the terrorist network blamed for the terrorist attacks in the U.S. in September 2001: "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al-Qaeda."

Bush said that after the 11 September attacks, the world's gravest threats are rogue states like Iraq that pursue weapons of mass destruction which they could pass on to terrorists or use to blackmail others. He said the world cannot allow Iraq to follow in the footsteps of North Korea, which is believed to have secretly developed nuclear weapons. Bush said the U.S. and the rest of the world will not be "blackmailed" by Pyongyang and called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

Finally, Bush appealed directly to the Iraqi people, saying they should not misinterpret the massing of American troops on their borders: "Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation."

Bush was interrupted 77 times by applause from members of the Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court, and his cabinet. Nevertheless, for the first time since the 11 September attacks, Bush faces a U.S. public divided over his leadership.

While some 80 percent of Americans supported his stand on Iraq one year ago, that number has dropped to 60 percent. And recent polls show support for military action against Iraq without UN support to be well below 50 percent.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle gave voice to some of those misgivings when he criticized Bush's foreign policy approach as alienating America's closest allies, such as Germany and France, who oppose going to war with Iraq at this time.

In his address, Bush said the U.S. is winning on the war on terrorism and cited more than 3,000 worldwide arrests of terrorist suspects.

But Daschle, in a speech designed to preempt Bush's arguments, said on 27 January that Bush's approach to world affairs is having a negative effect on the war on terrorism, which requires working closely with many nations: "To cooperate with other countries, we have to have their goodwill. We can't afford to squander their goodwill with friction over Iraq policy."

Meanwhile, the specter of America's struggling economy looms over Bush's presidency. A recent poll (New York Times/CBS News) found that Americans are twice as concerned about the economy as they are about war in Iraq. Bush desperately wants to avoid his father's fate -- winning a war against Iraq but losing reelection because of a recession.

More than half of Bush's speech last night focused on the economy and ways to get it moving again.

But Democrats, who have already begun campaigning for the next presidential elections in 2004, are trying to focus Americans on what they say is Bush's responsibility for the poor economy.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, appearing with Daschle on 27 January, recalled that in his State of the Union speech last year, Bush said his economic plan could be boiled down to one word: jobs. But the California liberal said Bush's plan can now be better understood as "loss of jobs."

"Since President Bush took office two years ago, a total of 2.3 million private sector jobs have been lost -- the worst record of job creation of any president since the end of World War II," she said.

Bush, however, remains personally popular in the polls. Moreover, U.S. public opinion historically rallies around the president in times of war.

And war, as Bush made clear, may be around the corner. He compared the new threat of global terrorism and rogue dictators to the last century's ideological evils. Bush said these were Nazism, militarism, and communism.

Then, he said, America and free people around the world rose up to the challenge to defend their way of life. Now, he said, America and its allies must continue that fight.

"Once again, this nation and all our friends are all that stands between a world at peace and a world of chaos and constant alarm," he said. "Once again, we are called to defend the safety of our people and the hopes of all mankind. And we accept this responsibility."

Bush's speech was delivered amid intense security. Several hundred people massed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building to protest Bush's policies on Iraq and the economy.

The U.S. Constitution requires presidents to inform Congress "from time to time" on the "state of the union." But until President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech in person in 1913, presidents had usually submitted their speeches in writing to Congress.

The address has been televised annually since President Harry S. Truman's address in 1947.