Laying out his second-term agenda, US President George Bush has pledged to confront governments that promote terror and pursue weapons of mass destruction and hailed the success of elections in Iraq as proof of democracy’s march.
In his State of the Union address, Bush also promised to push forward for an overall Middle East peace, including an offer of $350m (€268.9) in aid to the Palestinians.
Bush spent most of his speech on domestic affairs, largely changing the 70-year-old national pension system known as Social Security, a program so popular with Americans that it traditionally has been considered sacrosanct and untouchable.
He challenged a hesitant Congress to take political risks to make Social Security “permanently sound”, saying the nation’s costliest social program was headed for bankruptcy without changes.
Bush’s speech dealt with problems at home and abroad, but it was the first of his annual State of the Union addresses to focus most heavily on domestic issues since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on the US. Despite Democrats’ criticism, Bush offered no hint of a timetable for a troop withdrawal from Iraq.
Syria and Iran were singled out as nations that still export terror.
“And the victory of freedom in Iraq will strengthen a new ally in the war on terror, inspire democracy reformers from Damascus to Tehran, bring more hope and progress to a troubled region,” he said.
“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,” the president said.
With the United States spending more than $1bn (€768m) a week in Iraq, Bush urged Congress to support his request for an additional $80bn (€61.5bn). “During this time of war, we must continue to support our military and give them the tools for victory,” he said.
In the Democratic response to Bush’s address, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California criticized the president’s Iraq policy.
“We all know that the US cannot stay in Iraq indefinitely and continue to be viewed as an occupying force,” she said. “Neither should we slip out the back door, falsely declaring victory but leaving chaos. … We have never heard a clear plan from this administration for ending our presence in Iraq.”
While key allies like Germany and France opposed the war, Bush said his administration “will continue to build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time”.