President George W. Bush defended his policy in Iraq, while challenging the United States to reduce its dependence on foreign oil by developing alternative energy sources and invest in education in math and science, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
“America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world,” the president said before a joint session of Congress. “The best way to break this addiction is through technology.”
With additional research on zero-emission coal, solar and clean-and-safe nuclear energy, along with developing electric and hydrogen cars and cost-effective production of ethanol, Bush said the nation could “make dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.”
Bush’s State of the Union address, his fifth, came on the heels of what many consider the worst year of his presidency, marked by the NSA wiretapping controversy, CIA leak investigation, Hurricane Katrina, congressional lobbying scandals and Democratic attacks on his Iraq policy.
A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll just before his address showed 43 percent of Americans approved of his performance. A separate poll by Time Magazine found Bush’s approval rating at 41 percent, 12 points behind this time last year. Sixty percent of U.S. citizens said they disapprove of the way he is handling the war in Iraq.
A new poll in Iraq, meanwhile, found nearly half of Iraqis approve of attacks on U.S.-led forces.
Seventy percent favor setting a timetable for American troops to leave–half within six months and the other half favoring a withdrawal over the next two years. But 80 percent of Iraqis think the United States plans to maintain permanent bases in the country, even if the newly elected Iraqi government asks American forces to leave.
Yet Bush said the U.S. has little choice but to stay the course in Iraq, reasoning a sudden withdrawal of troops would aid enemies like Osama Bin Laden. “The United States will not retreat from the world, and we will never surrender to evil,” he said.
Bush insisted America is winning the war. “The road of victory is the road that will take our troops home,” he said, but, “Those decisions will be made by our military commanders, not by politicians in Washington, D.C.”
“Our nation has only one option,” he said. “We must keep our word, defeat our enemies and stand behind our American military in this vital mission.”
Robert Parham of the BaptistCenter for Ethics faulted the president at that point.
“President Bush rightly began his speech with a call for civility, for a spirit of good will, but moved too quickly into a partisan agenda that is divisive and is not the best way forward for a nation with deeply entrenched problems,” Parham said.
Parham said the issue in the war in Iraq “is neither the bravery of American forces nor the sacrifice of American families” but rather “the honesty of a president who continues to misstate the progress in Iraq, to distort the options for ending the U. S. occupation and to claim a plan for victory that is no real plan.”
The president defended his domestic-spying program, which he termed “essential to the security of America,” and urged Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
He called for democratic reform across the broader Middle East, including demands that the Iran not gain nuclear weapons and that Palestinian leaders recognize Israel and disarm and work for lasting peace.
Instead of retreating to “protectionist” trade policies, Bush said, the U.S. should take steps to maintain and increase its competitive edge.
He announced an American “competitiveness initiative,” to increase funding for scientific research and train teachers for advance placement in math and science.
“If we ensure that America’s children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world,” the president said.
Bush made passing reference to two issues important to so-called “values voters,” conservative evangelicals credited with helping him win a second term.
Thanking the Senate for approving Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Tuesday, Bush reaffirmed his pledge to replace liberal justices by saying, “Judges must be servants of the law and not legislate from the bench.”
He also renewed his plea for Congress to ban human cloning and against research involving human embryos. “Human life is a gift from our creator, and that gift should never be discarded, devalued or put up for sale,” Bush said.
Last year the president supported a constitutional amendment against gay marriage and building a “culture of life” by banning federal funding to create human embryos for research. He pledged to appoint conservative judges and to promote his “faith-based agenda” to make it easier for churches and other sectarian religious groups to qualify for federal funds.
The State of the Union is an annual speech given by the president to a joint session of Congress, where he presents his goals for the upcoming year and highlights achievements of his administration.
The U.S. Constitution requires the president “from time to time to give Congress information on the State of the Union” and recommend measures for their consideration, though it does not require it to be a speech. President George Washington gave the first such address in 1790, but it was called the “Annual Message” until President Franklin Roosevelt dubbed it the “State of the Union” in 1935.
Analyzing Bush’s speech, Parham said: “Unlike partisan Christians, prophetic Christians, in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, will see his speech as far too short on the abuse of power in Washington, far too thin on humility and far too removed from an authentic commitment to justice for the poor and working poor. The prophets would call for a better way, and so should American Christians today.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.