Post Mortem: State of the Union

Bush's 2007 State of the Union address, annotated by The Atlantic's James Fallows

Extending hope and opportunity depends on a stable supply of energy that keeps America's economy running and America's environment clean. [This is what transition sentences sound like when speechwriters are tired. “Even as we confront threats from abroad, we must renew the sources of our real strength, at home.” Such sentences are programmed to macro keys in a speechwriter’s computer.]  For too long our nation has been dependent on foreign oil. And this dependence leaves us more vulnerable to hostile regimes, and to terrorists [see above]—who could cause huge disruptions of oil shipments, and raise the price of oil, and do great harm to our economy.

It's in our vital interest to diversify America's energy supply—the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power, by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power. (Applause.) [For God knows what reason, Dick Cheney is smirking through this entire section! Can he really care so little about appearances and putting a good face on things?? The former CEO of an oil company looking as if he is making fun of this whole earnest talk about oil dependence?]

We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. (Applause.) We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol—(applause)—using everything from wood chips to grasses, [the Washington types who heard the previous State of the Union speech are thinking: will he say it again? Will he talk about “switch grass” as a source of power? It would have been charming if Bush did—but to his credit he put an extra spin on ‘grasses’ to show that he knew what others were thinking], to agricultural wastes.

We made a lot of progress, thanks to good policies here in Washington and the strong response of the market. And now even more dramatic advances are within reach. Tonight, I ask Congress to join me in pursuing a great goal. Let us build on the work we've done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years. (Applause.) [Cheers, but everyone remembers: wasn’t last year’s speech about American’s dangerous “addiction to oil”? And since then we have done…. remind me, again?] When we do that we will have cut our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.

To reach this goal, we must increase the supply of alternative fuels, by setting a mandatory fuels standard to require 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels in 2017—and that is nearly five times the current target. (Applause.) At the same time, we need to reform and modernize fuel economy standards for cars the way we did for light trucks —and conserve up to 8.5 billion more gallons of gasoline by 2017.

Achieving these ambitious goals will dramatically reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but it's not going to eliminate it. And so as we continue to diversify our fuel supply, we must step up domestic oil production in environmentally sensitive ways. (Applause.) And to further protect America against severe disruptions to our oil supply, I ask Congress to double the current capacity of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. (Applause.)

America is on the verge of technological breakthroughs that will enable us to live our lives less dependent on oil. And these technologies will help us be better stewards of the environment, and they will help us to confront the serious challenge of global climate change. (Applause.) [Hey, what’s this? As with universal health care, Democrats are immediately up and cheering! Cheney (by my notes) remains seated. I don’t need my notes to remind me that at this point Bush and Cheney weirdly took sips of water at exactly the same time, creating an unwanted visual puppetmaster effect for Cheney.]

A future of hope and opportunity requires a fair, impartial system of justice. The lives of our citizens across our nation are affected by the outcome of cases pending in our federal courts. [Hmmm, might this, like ‘force of law,’ send some thoughts in a direction the President doesn’t intend?] We have a shared obligation to ensure that the federal courts have enough judges to hear those cases and deliver timely rulings. As President, I have a duty to nominate qualified men and women to vacancies on the federal bench. And the United States Senate has a duty, as well, to give those nominees a fair hearing, and a prompt up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. (Applause.) [All Republicans applaud; few Democrats.]

For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger. [See: “Transitions when you’re tired,” above.] Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that the terrorists can cause. We've had time to take stock of our situation. We've added many critical protections to guard the homeland. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning [“that September morning” is a phrase Bush often uses—and effectively, not just at a conscious level but in the sense of, “experiences we all share that we don’t even have to name,” and of course an experience that for the first few months showed him at his best.] were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us—unless we stop them.

With the distance of time, we find ourselves debating the causes of conflict and the course we have followed. Such debates are essential when a great democracy faces great questions. Yet one question has surely been settled: that to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy. (Applause.) [Everyone up and cheering for this, which makes sense—even given, as with immigration and health care and balancing the budget, people mean very different things by these same words. But it’s not just the legislators cheering: It is all the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff! Maybe I haven’t noticed, or the camera hasn’t shown it, and they’ve been doing it all along. But this is a profound mistake. Of course they agree with this sentiment. But it’s not their job to cheer! The members of the Supreme Court very admirably sit on their hands no matter what the President says. At least ten more times through the course of the speech, the camera shows the JCS cheering. Generals! Admiral! Cut this out at once!]

From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since 9/11 has never been the same.

Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. [This is one of several lines to hearten the President’s backers. This is a better and more intellectually forceful way of making the familiar argment, “no attacks on American soil since 9/11]. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented, but here is some of what we do know: We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terror cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them. (Applause.)

Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions [a good phrase] of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that's the case, America is still a nation at war. [I, personally, consider the view expressed in this sentence to be wrong as a guide to future US policy—as I argued last fall in the Atlantic. But it’s a concise and effective statement of the president’s view.]

In the mind of the terrorist, this war began well before September the 11th, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled .[Which means it will end when from our point of view? When there is no one left who thinks that way? And we’ll eliminate all of them by...?] And these past five years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite [My friend Michael Fullilove, an Australian foreign policy expert and former speechwriter, will soon publish a critique of Bush foreign policy based on the exact concept of “the opposite.” Once it is published, I’ll allude to its explanation of why this is a risky phrase to use in the speech.] They preach with threats, instruct with bullets and bombs, and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.

Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. 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. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: "We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse." Osama bin Laden declared: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."

These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah—a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.

The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale. [Again, throughout this section, the President seems twice as alert and ten times as interested as earlier. This is the president we have known—and admired or detested –over the last four years.]

In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers had ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people. (Applause.) [The most interesting word here is of course “lawful.” If I were in a country where the internet worked, I’d look to see whether he had felt its insertion necessary in previous years.]

This war is more than a clash of arms—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 to come and kill us. What every terrorist fears most is human freedom [interesting that the president doesn’t bother to make this more than a flat repetition of an idea his supporters already believe and many critics completely dismiss]—societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience, and live by their hopes instead of their resentments. Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies—and most will choose a better way when they're given a chance. So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates and reformers and brave voices for democracy. The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security, we must. (Applause.) [Everyone must cheer.]

In the last two years, we've seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East—and we have been sobered by the enemy's fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution, they drove out the Syrian occupiers and chose new leaders in free elections. In 2005, the people of Afghanistan defied the terrorists and elected a democratic legislature. And in 2005, the Iraqi people held three national elections, choosing a transitional government, adopting the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world, and then electing a government under that constitution. Despite endless threats from the killers in their midst, nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens came out to vote in a show of hope and solidarity that we should never forget. (Applause.) [Quite limited applause, which reflects the following train of thought: Yes, they went out and voted, and chose politicians who have subsequently bickered on sectarian lines, and now with Maliki….]

Presented by

James Fallows

state of the union, bush, iraq, 2007, james fallows, analysis, postmortem, atlantic monthly, annotated More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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