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SPREADING FREEDOM AT HOME & ABROAD (NEW YORK POST EDITORIAL) 02/03/05)Source: http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/editorial/21668.htm NEW YORK POST NEW YORK POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
February 3, 2005 -- In his State of the Union Address, Pres ident Bush last night laid down a se ries of critical challenges — both for eign and domestic — to Congress, to the American people and to this na tion´s friends and enemies alike.

It was a serious speech delivered by a serious man — and it will receive serious study around the world.

Indeed, last night´s speech — coming hard on the heels of the president´s soaring inaugural address and the weekend´s stunning Iraqi electoral turnout — should lay to rest forever the notion that George W. Bush is a lucky lightweight. For better or worse, he´s changing the world.

Substantially for the better, we think.

The nation last night saw a president unwilling to avoid the difficult issues in his second term. On the contrary: Bush´s forward- looking address demonstrated that he intends to push for utterly fundamental changes in both domestic and foreign policy, such as those that characterized the incumbencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

Bush noted that "the state of our union is confident and strong." The coming challenge, he said, is to "do what Americans have always done — and build a better world for our children . . . and grandchildren."

The initial focus of the president´s constitutionally mandated annual report to Congress was on domestic affairs; this was possible in large part because of America´s success in confronting terrorism and spreading freedom abroad.

It is an ambitious agenda, particularly regarding Social Security, which he proposes overhauling — gradually, to be sure, but also in significant measure.

And, in so doing, he initiated a domestic debate that will continue for years.

Then the president made it clear that — as far as he´s concerned — America´s job overseas is far from finished.

Bush noted the success of last Sunday´s Iraqi national elections — achieved only at a humbling cost in lives and treasure.

He declared, in no uncertain terms, that America is prepared to go further and "encourage a higher standard of freedom," even as we continue to "fight the common threat of terror."

And then he raised the stakes of the game — profoundly.

Bush explicitly warned America´s traditional Arab allies that they too must travel the road to freedom.

Said Bush: "The government of Saudi Arabia" — whose domestic repression and support for terrorists have long been tolerated by U.S. administrations — "can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future."

Given that those people, the royal family aside, now enjoy no role in determining their future, Bush´s declaration was an unprecedented public confrontation, if softly enunciated, with the nation that supplies most of our oil needs.

And, he added, "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." So now even the staunchest U.S. allies must recognize that they cannot hold back the rising tide of freedom and democratization.

Bush did not shy away from the need to "confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder" — specifically naming Syria and Iran.

And he uttered what may have been the most significant words of the evening:

"To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

Those words echoed President Eisenhower´s similar declaration to the people of Hungary in 1956, shortly before they rose up — albeit unsuccessfully — against Soviet domination. Whether they spark unrest in Iran remains to be seen. But the mullahs now must contend with American special-forces troops on two borders and the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf: You can bet they´re taking the president´s remarkable pledge with the utmost seriousness.

On the domestic front, Bush sounded fa miliar themes: The need to "restrain the spending appetite of the federal government" (though he himself has had difficulty showing such restraint); the urgent need for tort reform and domestic energy sources; challenges to reform the nation´s tax code and immigration systems, and a defense of traditional marriage and faith-based moral values.

His most controversial proposal, of course, concerned Social Security.

Though congressional Democrats loudly disagreed, Bush made a convincing case that the system — "one of America´s most important institutions, a symbol of the trust between generations" — is headed toward bankruptcy.

In calling for "an open, candid review of the options," the president cited a number of proposals that have been put forth by Democrats, including the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Bush´s own contribution to the debate is voluntary personal retirement accounts — with sufficient safeguards so that retirement income is not jeopardized.

Ultimately, the president´s overriding emphasis was on freedom, at home and abroad — and on the undeniable link between them. It was the same theme he´d sounded in his inaugural, and it´s now clear it will be the ideological core of his second term.

It was on this note that the most poignant moment of the evening arrived, when Bush recognized Janet and Bill Norwood, parents of Marine Sgt. Byron Norwood — killed in action in the assault on Fallujah. They represented, in the president´s words, "freedom´s defenders, and our military families."

Standing in the row in front of the Norwoods, next to First Lady Laura Bush, was Safia Taleb al-Suhail — an Iraqi woman whose father had been assassinated by Saddam´s secret police, and who voted for the first time on Sunday.

The president paused, as a grieving American mother was thanked with an emotional embrace from a free Iraqi woman, profoundly grateful for the Norwoods´ sacrifice.

Sometimes leadership resides more in symbols than in the spoken word — and that image will be remembered for a long, long time.

Nor was it an accident that, at the end of his speech, Bush quoted Franklin Roosevelt: "Each age is a dream that is dying, or one that is coming to birth."

Bush clearly shares FDR´s determination to bring about great changes in America.

"As we watch our children growing into adulthood," the president said, "we ask the question: What will be the state of their union?"

With his speech last night, George W. Bush made clear that he expects it to be as confident and strong as it is today. (Copyright 2005 NYP Holdings, Inc. 02/03/05)

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