Post Mortem: State of the Union

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

By James Fallows

Here are the big points about this speech, then some line by line comments. This will be the commentary equivalent of organic farming, in that my reactions are 100% unsullied by first-wave reaction in the United States. Here in Shenzhen, southern China, where I recently arrived, internet service is still so severely disrupted by the earthquake in Taiwan last month that web pages take several minutes to load. This report will—I hope—go by email to the Atlantic’s web HQ in Washington.

About the speech:

Like the President’s last big televised address, his defense of the “New Way Forward” in Iraq less than two weeks ago, this speech will not change a single mind among those (a majority of Americans, according to polls) who thought before the speech that George W. Bush was doing a bad job as president and that his approach to Iraq was wrong.

More than his speech about Iraq, this speech offers some comfort and support to those who think that Bush is making the best of difficult circumstances and showing the right firmness about Iraq. The previous speech offered the President’s familiar, main assertion—we can’t afford to lose—and the completely contradictory point that the United States will stay in Iraq only if the Maliki regime shapes up. This speech presented the same two ideas—but added a few phrases that supporters of the “surge” can use in staving off doubts.

Twice in the speech—at the very beginning, and much of the end—the President showed traces of the affable, bipartisan figure who was such a success as governor of Texas, and who made a brief reappearance just after the mid-term election results last year.

The president’s bearing, delivery, and body language seemed very revealing. When talking about domestic policy, his words and ideas were sometimes interesting—but everything about his presentation said, “I am bored.” When talking about Iraq and terrorism, he seemed suddenly to care, or at least to be reanimated by familiar lines. It’s fair that his Administration will be judged on what he has done in Iraq and in the name of the “Global War on Terror,” because that is manifestly the only thing he cares about.

Word that did not appear in the speech: India. Also: France, Britain, Germany. Word that appeared only by accident, in a list of options for handling North Korea: China.

The President’s State of the Union address in 2002 will always be remembered, because it introduced us to the “Axis of Evil.” His speech in 2003 made the main case for invading Iraq (and the case, at that time, was almost completely about removing the risk of WMD). His speech in 2005 is now looked back on with wonder, because Bush devoted so much of it to the (quickly abandoned) case for privatizing Social Security. I suspect that this one will not be looked back on at all, except as the first to be presided over by “Madame Speaker.” And as the speech that occurred on the same night as Jim Webb’s powerful debut.

This transcript is the final “as delivered” version from the White House. “Applause” is noted many times, but not all applause breaks were the same. A few were enthusiastic and bipartisan; some were enthusiastic and strictly partisan; and a large number were perfunctory.

For Immediate Release                  January 23, 2007
STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS
BY THE PRESIDENT

United States Capitol
9:13 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. And tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own—as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker. (Applause.)
 [This paragraph and the next were not part of the released text, and they were wonderful. Bush played off the formulaic “high privilege and distinct honor” introduction by the Speaker. He cannot help but have put Nancy Pelosi, who would be behind him on camera for the next fifty minutes, into a better frame of mind. He forced the Democrats (and many Republicans) to stand and cheer. And he seemed like a nice guy, Texas governor-style.]

In his day, the late Congressman Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. from Baltimore, Maryland, saw Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at this rostrum. But nothing could compare with the sight of his only daughter, Nancy, presiding tonight as Speaker of the House of Representatives. (Applause.) Congratulations, Madam Speaker. (Applause.)
[I worried when I heard this second paragraph: one word more than what Bush said in this vein would have been laying it on far too thick. But the references were appropriate and historically knowledgeable-seeming, and the last two words of the paragraph were guaranteed to get another big cheer.]

Two members of the House and Senate are not with us tonight, and we pray for the recovery and speedy return of Senator Tim Johnson and Congressman Charlie Norwood. (Applause.)
[Also left out of the prepared text; also gracious; comfortably bipartisan, since if only Johnson, whose health is the key to the Democrats’ hold on the Senate, had been ailing, even raising the topic could lead to ungracious thoughts among some listeners in the Capitol building and nationwide.]

Madam Speaker, Vice President Cheney, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

The rite of custom brings us together at a defining hour—when decisions are hard and courage is needed. We enter the year 2007 with large endeavors underway, and others that are ours to begin. In all of this, much is asked of us. We must have the will to face difficult challenges and determined enemies—and the wisdom to face them together.  [Yeah yeah yeah. This is how speechwriters sound when they are tired, or politicians when they don’t actually have anything to say.]

Some in this chamber are new to the House and the Senate—and I congratulate the Democrat majority. (Applause.) [Applause was a little one-sided, and Bush rushed right through it any way. And please, please, can we drop this childish insistence on calling the opposition the ‘Democrat’ party? That is a minor score-settling tactic advocated by Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay, and it’s unworthy of a presidential speech. ] Congress has changed, but not our responsibilities. Each of us is guided by our own convictions—and to these we must stay faithful. Yet we're all held to the same standards, and called to serve the same good purposes: To extend this nation's prosperity; to spend the people's money wisely; to solve problems, not leave them to future generations; to guard America against all evil; and to keep faith with those we have sent forth to defend us. (Applause.) [In news-magazine land, this would be called the nut graf: the summary of what the article, or speech, will be about. Every year White House insiders say that the State of the Union speech will be “thematic” and not a “laundry list.” Well, these are the themes.]

We're not the first to come here with a government divided and uncertainty in the air. Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on—as long as we're willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done. (Applause.) [At this point Nancy Pelosi first employs a trick that serves her well through the night. Bush has done a skillful job in most of the speech of starting a sentence or paragraph with something the Democrats don’t believe in, but then ending the passage with something they have to stand up and applaud, like “we will always support the troops!” In these cases Pelosi clearly thought she might as well recognize the situation and get on her feet cheering before Dick Cheney can. The two people are roughly the same age, but Pelosi has had four or five fewer heart attacks than Cheney, and throughout the night, starting here, she beats him in the stand-and-applause contest every time.] Our job is to make life better for our fellow Americans, and to help them to build a future of hope and opportunity—and this is the business before us tonight.

A future of hope and opportunity begins with a growing economy—and that is what we have. We're now in the 41st month of uninterrupted job growth, in a recovery that has created 7.2 million new jobs—so far. Unemployment is low, inflation is low, and wages are rising. This economy is on the move, and our job is to keep it that way, not with more government, but with more enterprise. (Applause.) [This is an early illustration of the “I dare ‘em not to cheer” ploy. Democrats completely disagree with the first part of this paragraph—that will become one of Webb’s main themes—and they probably think government has a different, better role in fixing problems than Bush thinks. But most of them have to clap for the last line.]

Next week, I'll deliver a full report on the state of our economy. Tonight, I want to discuss three economic reforms that deserve to be priorities for this Congress.

First, we must balance the federal budget. (Applause.)  [Pelosi up like a shot! This may have been too risky a line for Bush, since the Democrats are obviously cheering in sarcastic glee, given the spending record of the Republican Congress and Bush’s failure to ever veto a single spending plan. On the other hand, members of the President’s base may need to hear this.] We can do so without raising taxes. (Applause.) What we need is to impose spending discipline in Washington, D.C. We set a goal of cutting the deficit in half by 2009, and met that goal three years ahead of schedule. (Applause.) Now let us take the next step. In the coming weeks, I will submit a budget that eliminates the federal deficit within the next five years. (Applause.) I ask you to make the same commitment. Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the federal government, and we can balance the federal budget. (Applause.) [It is striking how perfunctory the applause here is. It is as if all the legislators, regardless of party, know how this is actually going to turn out.]

Next, there is the matter of earmarks. These special interest items are often slipped into bills at the last hour—when not even C-SPAN is watching. (Laughter.) [Oh, I miss Washington humor!] In 2005 alone, the number of earmarks grew to over 13,000 and totaled nearly $18 billion. Even worse, over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate—they are dropped into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You didn't vote them into law. I didn't sign them into law. Yet, they're treated as if they have the force of law. [A sneaking little thought: is it really such a good idea to be talking about proposals that don’t go through the time-honored legislative process and yet somehow take on the ‘force of law.’  Could this possibly start some people thinking: wait a minute! That’s what the President has been doing with his “signing statements,” and his executive orders, and his other decrees! This is a nice line about earmarks that should have been cut, since it hurts Bush’s larger case and cause.] The time has come to end this practice. So let us work together to reform the budget process, expose every earmark to the light of day and to a vote in Congress, and cut the number and cost of earmarks at least in half by the end of this session. (Applause.) [Nervous applause. No one can believe that the President would actually push this point, with so much else to worry about. On the other hand, many of the new members had campaigned against incumbents for earmark excesses among other sins.]

And, finally, to keep this economy strong we must take on the challenge of entitlements. Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid are commitments of conscience [What???? Did anybody in the speechwriting office look at the State of the Union address from two years ago, about how Social Security as we knew it had outlived its time? On the other hand, who cares: The President’s supporters and detractors alike are much more worried about other issues.], and so it is our duty to keep them permanently sound. Yet, we're failing in that duty. And this failure will one day leave our children with three bad options: huge tax increases, huge deficits, or huge and immediate cuts in benefits. Everyone in this chamber knows this to be true—yet somehow we have not found it in ourselves to act. So let us work together and do it now. With enough good sense and goodwill, you and I can fix Medicare and Medicaid—and save Social Security. (Applause.)

[All through this section, the President appears just to be reading the speech, to get through it, without noticing or “selling” what it says.] Spreading opportunity and hope in America also requires public schools that give children the knowledge and character they need in life. Five years ago, we rose above partisan differences to pass the No Child Left Behind Act, preserving local control, raising standards, and holding those schools accountable for results. And because we acted, students are performing better in reading and math, and minority students are closing the achievement gap.

Now the task is to build on the success, without watering down standards, without taking control from local communities, and without backsliding and calling it reform. We can lift student achievement even higher by giving local leaders flexibility to turn around failing schools, and by giving families with children stuck in failing schools the right to choose someplace better. (Applause.) We must increase funds for students who struggle—and make sure these children get the special help they need. (Applause.) And we can make sure our children are prepared for the jobs of the future and our country is more competitive by strengthening math and science skills. The No Child Left Behind Act has worked for America's children—and I ask Congress to reauthorize this good law. (Applause.) [Polite applause, not strictly on partisan lines.]

A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care. (Applause.) [All Democrats instantly on their feet, cheering lustily and somewhat sarcastically. Republicans a little more uneasy-seeming.] When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children. And we will meet those responsibilities. For all other Americans, private health insurance is the best way to meet their needs. (Applause.) But many Americans cannot afford a health insurance policy.

And so tonight, I propose two new initiatives to help more Americans afford their own insurance. First, I propose a standard tax deduction for health insurance that will be like the standard tax deduction for dependents. Families with health insurance will pay no income on payroll tax—or payroll taxes on $15,000 of their income. Single Americans with health insurance will pay no income or payroll taxes on $7,500 of their income. With this reform, more than 100 million men, women, and children who are now covered by employer-provided insurance will benefit from lower tax bills. At the same time, this reform will level the playing field for those who do not get health insurance through their job. For Americans who now purchase health insurance on their own, this proposal would mean a substantial tax savings—$4,500 for a family of four making $60,000 a year. And for the millions of other Americans who have no health insurance at all, this deduction would help put a basic private health insurance plan within their reach. Changing the tax code is a vital and necessary step to making health care affordable for more Americans. (Applause.) [This counts as one of the main domestic initiatives in the speech, and—according to my notes—not even the Republicans stood to cheer.]

My second proposal is to help the states that are coming up with innovative ways to cover the uninsured. States that make basic private health insurance available to all their citizens should receive federal funds to help them provide this coverage to the poor and the sick. I have asked the Secretary of Health and Human Services to work with Congress to take existing federal funds and use them to create "Affordable Choices" grants. These grants would give our nation's governors more money and more flexibility to get private health insurance to those most in need.

There are many other ways that Congress can help. We need to expand Health Savings Accounts. (Applause.) [I think this is the first time that Dick Cheney stands to cheer and Pelosi sits and stares.] We need to help small businesses through Association Health Plans. (Applause.) We need to reduce costs and medical errors with better information technology. (Applause.) We will encourage price transparency. And to protect good doctors from junk lawsuits, we are passing medical liability reform. (Applause.) [To judge by the applause-and-yelling meter, this is both the most cleanly-divided partisan issue among the domestic proposals, with all the Republicans standing and cheering and none of the Democrats (that I can see); and it is also the issue the Republicans care about most. They cheer very loudly for this one.] In all we do, we must remember that the best health care decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors. (Applause.) [Let’s see if the Democrats dare not applaud!]

Extending hope and opportunity in our country requires an immigration system worthy of America—with laws that are fair and borders that are secure. When laws and borders are routinely violated, this harms the interests of our country. To secure our border, we're doubling the size of the Border Patrol, and funding new infrastructure and technology.

Yet even with all these steps, we cannot fully secure the border unless we take pressure off the border—and that requires a temporary worker program. We should establish a legal and orderly path for foreign workers to enter our country to work on a temporary basis. As a result, they won't have to try to sneak in, and that will leave Border Agents free to chase down drug smugglers and criminals and terrorists. [It’s strange: with the last two words, “and terrorists,” you can almost hear Bush talking differently. He seems to be thinking: OK, now we’re getting to the important stuff, this is what I know about.] (Applause.) We'll enforce our immigration laws at the work site and give employers the tools to verify the legal status of their workers, so there's no excuse left for violating the law. (Applause.)

We need to uphold the great tradition of the melting pot that welcomes and assimilates new arrivals. (Applause.) We need to resolve the status of the illegal immigrants who are already in our country without animosity and without amnesty. (Applause.) Convictions run deep in this Capitol when it comes to immigration. Let us have a serious, civil, and conclusive debate, so that you can pass, and I can sign, comprehensive immigration reform into law. (Applause.) [Everybody cheers the goal, even as they know that fundamentally different ideas of what “reform” should mean are nowhere near being resolved.]

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….]

A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back. In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon's legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam—the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia—and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.

This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we're in. [This phrase is like Donald Rumsfeld’s self-damaging line about going to war not with the army you want but the army you have. Nonetheless, it is a useful line. It gives supporters of the president and the surge something  effective to say.] 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. (Applause.) Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. [Another very good line, in expressing the stand the President wants the country to continue to make in Iraq.] Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory. (Applause.)

We're carrying out a new strategy in Iraq—a plan that demands more from Iraq's elected government, and gives our forces in Iraq the reinforcements they need to complete their mission. Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror.

In order to make progress toward this goal, the Iraqi government must stop the sectarian violence in its capital. But the Iraqis are not yet ready to do this on their own. So we're deploying reinforcements of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. The vast majority will go to Baghdad, where they will help Iraqi forces to clear and secure neighborhoods, and serve as advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units. With Iraqis in the lead, our forces will help secure the city by chasing down the terrorists, insurgents, and the roaming death squads. And in Anbar Province, where al Qaeda terrorists have gathered and local forces have begun showing a willingness to fight them, we're sending an additional 4,000 United States Marines, with orders to find the terrorists and clear them out. (Applause.) We didn't drive al Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq.

The people of Iraq want to live in peace, and now it's time for their government to act. Iraq's leaders know that our commitment is not open-ended. [OK, here is the return of the Gaping Logical Hole. If it’s not open ended, we must be telling the Iraqis to shape up, or else. Or else what? We’ll leave—and bring on all the catastrophic consequences of a failed Iraq the President has just warned us about? Someone in the White House needs to work up an answer to this “Or else what?” question about Iraq.] They have promised to deploy more of their own troops to secure Baghdad—and they must do so. They pledged that they will confront violent radicals of any faction or political party—and they need to follow through, and lift needless restrictions on Iraqi and coalition forces, so these troops can achieve their mission of bringing security to all of the people of Baghdad. Iraq's leaders have committed themselves to a series of benchmarks—to achieve reconciliation, to share oil revenues among all of Iraq's citizens, to put the wealth of Iraq into the rebuilding of Iraq, to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's civic life, to hold local elections, and to take responsibility for security in every Iraqi province. But for all of this to happen, Baghdad must be secure. And our plan will help the Iraqi government take back its capital and make good on its commitments.

   My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose [Very dangerous two word combination—especially because, as delivered, Bush actually stressed the I. Because of the jokes about his being “the decider” and less joking comment about his royalist-sounding assertion of doing whatever he wants in Iraq regardless of popular or legislative opinion, would have been wiser here to simply say “we chose” or to vague it up with “In the end it was clear” etc] this course of action because it provides the best chance for 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.

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. [See “Gaping Logical Hole,” above. Yes, these consequences sound bad. So how can we hold the Maliki regime to conditions?] 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.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally—their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger. (Applause.) [Another effective “make them applaud” line. Even legislators who doubt every link in the Administration’s chain of logic about Iraq can’t afford not to endorse a promise to protect Americans from danger.]

This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you've made. We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and in our convictions. [First half of a nice rhetorical gambit…] And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. […. and the second half. A subtle but obvious reminder that most of the prominent Democrats in the room in fact cast votes in favor of the war. Remember those days, Senator Clinton? Remember, ex-Senator Edwards, watching at home? ] 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. (Applause.) [Many legislators in the room would question the next-to-last sentence. Not a one of them could afford not to be seen cheering the final line.]

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. Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. It's why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. We'll show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory. [Hmmm, and remind me about the Iraq Study Group again?]

And one of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military so that the American Armed Forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. (Applause.) Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. (Applause.) A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. It would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time. [Perhaps I have become too jaded, but here I think the President tries out an argument that cannot possibly help him. Should more Americans be involved in what is described as the transcendent struggle of the era? Of course! But maybe the time to bring up that point would have been four or five years ago—or if it was to take this long, perhaps it should be backed up with some specific actions and ideas, probably involved radical energy-conservation measures.]

Americans can have confidence in the outcome of this struggle because we're not in this struggle alone. We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism. [Very similar risk: Is it sensible to talk about these two or three illustrations of efforts with other countries, when the whole idea of “how the world feels about America” leads in directions you’d rather avoid?] In Iraq, multinational forces are operating under a mandate from the United Nations. We're working with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the Gulf States to increase support for Iraq's government.

The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. (Applause.) [There's an obvious “or else what?” question here, but that’s for another day. For speech purposes, it’s wise to leave the threat unexpressed.] With the other members of the Quartet—the U.N., the European Union, and Russia—we're pursuing diplomacy to help bring peace to the Holy Land, and pursuing the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. (Applause.) In Afghanistan, NATO has taken the lead in turning back the Taliban and al Qaeda offensive—the first time the Alliance has deployed forces outside the North Atlantic area. Together with our partners in China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, we're pursuing intensive diplomacy to achieve a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

We will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma—and continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur. (Applause.) [I applaud the sentiments in this sentence—and recognize it immediately as one that would have been fought over for days and weeks ahead of time. The speechwriters would be under pressure to cut something, anything, to keep the speech from getting too grotesquely long. The “policy guys” would say: Believe us, these two lines will make a difference. The mention of Cuba is pro forma, but having the other names come out of a U.S. president’s mouth can have some effect—especially his saying “Burma” rather than the name the local regime prefers, “Myanmar.”]

American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy. Our work in the world is also based on a timeless truth: To whom much is given, much is required. [One of the few appearances of what used to be George Bush’s favorite rhetorical  touches: a spiritual reference that will be recognized by those who will appreciate it and ignored by those who might not. Also a reoccurrence of “compassionate conservative” themes of his original presidential campaign.] We hear the call to take on the challenges of hunger and poverty and disease—and that is precisely what America is doing. We must continue to fight HIV/AIDS, especially on the continent of Africa. (Applause.) Because you funded our Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the number of people receiving life-saving drugs has grown from 50,000 to more than 800,000 in three short years. I ask you to continue funding our efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. I ask you to provide $1.2 billion over five years so we can combat malaria in 15 African countries. (Applause.)

I ask that you fund the Millennium Challenge Account, so that American aid reaches the people who need it, in nations where democracy is on the rise and corruption is in retreat. And let us continue to support the expanded trade and debt relief that are the best hope for lifting lives and eliminating poverty. (Applause.)

When America serves others in this way, we show the strength and generosity of our country. These deeds reflect the character of our people. The greatest strength we have is the heroic kindness, courage, and self-sacrifice of the American people. You see this spirit often if you know where to look—and tonight we need only look above to the gallery.

[Here begins the Lenny Skutnik portion, in which real human beings become specimens and symbols of the points a president wants to make. This was done more deliberately than usual—sometimes presidents just leave the press to parse out the meaning of the list of guests sitting near the First Lady in the balcony—and it was also more moving than most. Bush and many of the legislators seemed genuinely touched to be reminded of Mutumbo’s story—and proud of the idea that he had chosen this as his homeland…..] Dikembe Mutombo grew up in Africa, amid great poverty and disease. He came to Georgetown University on a scholarship to study medicine—but Coach John Thompson got a look at Dikembe and had a different idea. (Laughter.) Dikembe became a star in the NBA, and a citizen of the United States. But he never forgot the land of his birth, or the duty to share his blessings with others. He built a brand new hospital in his old hometown. A friend has said of this good-hearted man: "Mutombo believes that God has given him this opportunity to do great things." And we are proud to call this son of the Congo a citizen of the United States of America. (Applause.)

After her daughter was born, Julie Aigner-Clark searched for ways to share her love of music and art with her child. So she borrowed some equipment, and began filming children's videos in her basement. The Baby Einstein Company was born, and in just five years her business grew to more than $20 million in sales. In November 2001, Julie sold Baby Einstein to the Walt Disney Company, and with her help Baby Einstein has grown into a $200 million business. Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America. And she is using her success to help others—producing child safety videos with John Walsh of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Julie says of her new project: "I believe it's the most important thing that I have ever done. I believe that children have the right to live in a world that is safe." And so tonight, we are pleased to welcome this talented business entrepreneur and generous social entrepreneur—Julie Aigner-Clark. (Applause.) [Compared with the others, this part had a Huh?? Element. She got Disney to buy her company, and…..?]

Three weeks ago, Wesley Autrey was waiting at a Harlem subway station with his two little girls, when he saw a man fall into the path of a train. With seconds to act, Wesley jumped onto the tracks, pulled the man into the space between the rails, and held him as the train passed right above their heads. He insists he's not a hero. He says: "We got guys and girls overseas dying for us to have our freedoms. We have got to show each other some love." There is something wonderful about a country that produces a brave and humble man like Wesley Autrey. (Applause.) [This was the most impassioned applause of the evening, and with good reason. A genuinely heroic story—made more interesting, rather than undercut, by Autrey’s waving and doing call-outs as if he’d just won a Grammy. But seriously, this was a story that moved everyone who heard about it, and all credit to the President for honoring him.]

Tommy Rieman was a teenager pumping gas in Independence, Kentucky, when he enlisted in the United States Army. In December 2003, he was on a reconnaissance mission in Iraq when his team came under heavy enemy fire. From his Humvee, Sergeant Rieman returned fire; he used his body as a shield to protect his gunner. He was shot in the chest and arm, and received shrapnel wounds to his legs—yet he refused medical attention, and stayed in the fight. He helped to repel a second attack, firing grenades at the enemy's position. For his exceptional courage, Sergeant Rieman was awarded the Silver Star. And like so many other Americans who have volunteered to defend us, he has earned the respect and the gratitude of our entire country. (Applause.) [No comment necessary. It was again touching rather than odd that Rieman, full heartedly, joined the applause with everyone else.]

In such courage and compassion, ladies and gentlemen, we see the spirit and character of America—and these qualities are not in short supply. This is a decent and honorable country—and resilient, too. We've been through a lot together. We've met challenges and faced dangers, and we know that more lie ahead. Yet we can go forward with confidence—because the State of our Union is strong, our cause in the world is right, and tonight that cause goes on. God bless. (Applause.)  [Speechwriting team: God bless you for a graceful ending that cleverly saved for the very last sentence of the speech the required phrase “the State of our Union is…” and whose very last words were, “that cause goes on.”  If only the President had seen the wisdom of stopping there.]

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/01/post-mortem-state-of-the-union/305606/