In a speech that also might have been called "The State of the Middle East," President
George W. Bush announced in his State of the Union message tonight
(Wednesday, Feb. 2) that he will ask Congress to appropriate $350 million "to support
Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms."
"The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, is within reach -- and America will help them achieve that goal," said the President, noting that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will leave for Europe and the Middle East tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 3).
He also pointedly called upon Egypt and Saudi Arabia to democratize, saying "the government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."
He had tougher words for Syria and Iran, which he described respectively as regimes that "continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder."
Syria, said the President, "still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region. You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act
— and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom."
As for Iran, Bush said it "remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing, and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."
The President placed the continuing American role in Iraq
in the context of the greater Middle East, telling the joint session of Congress that "the victory of freedom in Iraq will strengthen a new ally in the war on terror, inspire democratic reformers from Damascus to Tehran, bring more hope and progress to a troubled region, and thereby lift a terrible threat from the lives of our children and grandchildren."
"We will succeed because the Iraqi people value their own liberty — as they showed the world last Sunday," Bush said. "Across Iraq, often at great risk, millions of citizens went to the polls and elected 275 men and women to represent them in a new Transitional National Assembly. A young woman in Baghdad told of waking to the sound of mortar fire on election day, and wondering if it might be too dangerous to vote. She said,
'Hearing those explosions, it occurred to me -- the insurgents are weak, they are afraid of democracy, they are losing. So I got my husband, and I got my parents, and we all came out and voted
The President said America would stay the course in Iraq. "While our military strategy is adapting to circumstances, our commitment remains firm and unchanging," he said. "We are standing for the freedom of our Iraqi friends, and freedom in Iraq will make America safer for generations to come. We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq, because that would embolden the terrorists and make them believe they can wait us out. We are in Iraq to achieve a result: A country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself. And when that result is achieved, our men and women serving in Iraq will return home with the honor they have earned."
Earlier in his speech, the President outlined various domestic proposals, including his expected and controversial call for partial privatization of Social Security; a guest worker program for foreign national; mandatory DNA testing in capital cases, and a vow to appoint strict- constructionalist judges who don't try to make law from the bench.
Bush renewed his support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, and continued his opposition to
abortion—two "values" planks of importance to many of the President's political supporters, including Christian fundamentalists. The wording of his speech seemed to leave open the possibility that he might be more flexible than previously on permitting more comprehensive stem cell research, provided appropriate guidelines can be formulated.
"Because a society is measured by how it treats the weak and vulnerable, we must strive to build a culture of life," Bush said. "Medical research can help us reach that goal, by developing treatments and cures that save lives and help people overcome disabilities
— and I thank the Congress for doubling the funding of the National Institutes of Health.
"To build a culture of life, we must also ensure that scientific advances always serve human dignity, not take advantage of some lives for the benefit of others. ...We should all be able to agree on some clear standards. I will work with Congress to ensure that human embryos are not created for experimentation or grown for body parts, and that human life is never bought and sold as a commodity. America will continue to lead the world in medical research that is ambitious, aggressive, and always