Facing waning public and political support, President George W. Bush pleaded with a Democratic Congress to give his plan to escalate the war in Iraq a chance in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

“This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in,” Bush said in the ceremonial address to both houses of Congress, marking the beginning of his last two years in office.

Bush entered the speech with a new-low approval rating of 28 percent, with twice as many Americans disapproving of the way he is handling his job. Two thirds opposed his plan to escalate the war in Iraq.

“Every one of us wishes that this war were over and won,” the president said. “Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.”

Bush opened his speech with an olive branch, congratulating the new Democratic majority and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the first female Speaker of the House. About half of the address focused on domestic issues–education, energy, health care and immigration.

Much of the rest defended his new strategy in Iraq, deploying 20,000 additional troops and Marines to secure Baghdad while pressuring Iraq’s government to take more responsibility for its own defense.

“My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options,” he said. “We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance of success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq–because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far reaching.”

“This war is more than a clash of arms,” he said. “It is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our nation is in the balance. To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and come to kill us.”

“Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions,” he said. “They want to overthrow moderate governments and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology.”

“Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy,” he said. “The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that is the case, America is still a nation at war.”

“We went into this largely united–in our assumptions, and in our convictions,” he told Congress. “And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field–and those on their way.”

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Bush “tried to frighten the nation again with a warning about grave danger in the future if the war fails in Iraq, rather than candor about how we exit an already failed war in Iraq.”

“He continued to misdirect and obfuscate when the nation needs a way out of the crossfire of a civil war in Iraq,” Parham said. “He tried to change the subject with a shopping cart full of other topics–many of which are worthy causes such as balancing the federal budget, malaria prevention in Africa, HIV/AIDS and global warming. But the state of the union is deeply troubled because of the war in Iraq.”

The president closed his speech recognizing accomplishments of four inspirational Americans, including NBA star Dikembe Mutombo, who built a hospital in his hometown in the Congo.

“The emotional high point of the State of the Union was the recognition of common citizens who have achieved uncommon successes or sacrificed much for the good of others,” Parham said. “Would that those elected and appointed officials in the chamber would model their behavior after these honored Americans.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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