President Bush asks Democrats, Republicans for patience on new Iraq plan

WASHINGTON (BP)--President Bush urged a skeptical Congress Jan. 23 to give his new plan in Iraq an opportunity to succeed.

Speaking in his next-to-last State of the Union address, Bush spent at least a third of his 49-minute address on the war against terrorists, especially the controversial conflict in Iraq. The president explained why he considers the Iraq effort so important and defended his plan to add 21,500 troops in an attempt to secure Baghdad and Anbar Province.

“We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and our convictions,” Bush said, apparently referring to the strong endorsement for invading Iraq in 2003. “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.

“This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in,” he said, alluding to the quick defeat of Saddam Hussein’s army before sectarian, terrorist-fueled strife plagued the country. “Every one of us wishes this war were over and won. 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. Let us find our resolve and turn events toward victory.”

Bush spoke to a joint session of Congress controlled in both the Senate and House of Representatives by Democrats for the first time since he entered office in 2001. Entering his seventh year in the White House, he faces not only fervent opposition from Democrats but declining support among congressional Republicans and the lowest ratings from the public during his presidency.

Only 33 percent of Americans approve of Bush’s overall performance, according to a Washington Post-ABC News survey reported the day of the speech. For the first time, a majority –- 51 percent -– strongly disapprove of the job the president is doing, according to the poll.

Southern Baptist public policy specialist Richard Land applauded the president’s speech, describing his performance as “a classic illustration of grace under pressure.”

“The president delivered an excellent speech, and I thought he made the case for his foreign policy eloquently, both on the war on terror in general and the confrontation in Iraq in particular,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “I thought the president’s domestic policy initiatives were bold and innovative, and one can only hope they will get a fair hearing in the Congress.”

The Democrats’ congressional leaders –- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi –- said in a joint statement the speech showed Bush “has not listened to Americans’ single greatest concern: The war in Iraq. His plan will receive an up-or-down vote in both the House and the Senate, and we will continue to hold him accountable for changing course in Iraq.”

Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate are backing non-binding resolutions opposed to Bush’s increase in troops in Iraq.

The president defended his strategy during the speech, saying the troop surge is needed to help the Iraqi government achieve the ability to halt violence. Success in Iraq will prevent chaos in the Middle East, Bush said.

“If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides,” the president said. “We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran and Sunni extremists aided by Al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country –- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

“The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. And that’s why it’s important to work together so our nation can see this great effort through.”

Bush said he plans to name a panel consisting of members from both parties to provide advice on the war against terrorism.

The president’s speech failed to address the issues of great concern to some of his staunchest supporters –- evangelical and other religious conservatives. He did not allude to the judicial efforts to “redefine marriage,” as he did in last year’s State of the Union speech, nor did he refer to a need for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He did not urge Congress to ban all human cloning, which he did in his 2006 address.

Bush’s failure to address such issues may have been an acknowledgment of the new reality in Congress -– Democrat majorities are highly unlikely to permit the advance of such measures; Republican leaders also could not get them passed when the GOP was in control. Still, pro-family leaders noticed the absence of such comments.

Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, commended Bush’s refusal “to surrender his role of commander-in-chief to the new majority” but expressed disappointment the president did not “challenge the new majority to advance core family and culture issues.”

“Mr. President, fight for the American family, and American families will stand with you,” Perkins said in a written statement.

Janice Shaw Crouse, director of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, lauded much of the speech but said Bush “virtually ignored the issues of the people who voted him into office. [H]e ‘dissed’ the social conservatives.”

Advocates for homosexuality and abortion rights continued to criticize Bush, despite his failure to promote pro-life or pro-marriage measures.

While the president’s decision not to endorse a marriage amendment “is positive news, it hardly erases the last six years of legislative and policy attacks our community has suffered under this administration,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Among proposals offered by the president in his speech were:

-- An increase in active duty members of the Army and Marine Corps by 92,000;

-- A tax deduction to help make health insurance affordable;

-- A balanced budget within five years by controlling spending;

-- A reduction by half of earmarks, the controversial designation of federal funds for specific projects often without congressional approval, by the end of the year;

-- A decrease in gasoline usage by 20 percent in 10 years to help cut the country’s reliance on oil from overseas.

At the beginning of his speech, Bush said he would be the first U.S. president to open his State of the Union address with the following words: “Madam Speaker.” The president congratulated Pelosi, the first female Speaker, who sat behind him alongside Vice President Dick Cheney. Bush also mentioned Pelosi’s father, the late Thomas D’Alesandro, who served as a congressman from Maryland from 1939 to 1947.

Bush “showed that he is a class act,” Land said. “The president’s gracious acknowledgment of Speaker Pelosi and of her father was both kind and generous.”

Compiled by Tom Strode

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