Carrie Lukas writes…

The President’s speech was stronger than I expected. He avoided the typical State of the Union laundry list, and focused primarily on broad themes and big issues. He made important calls for spending restraint, entitlement reform, school choice, comprehensive immigration reform, and offered a specific proposal to improve our tax codes treatment of healthcare insurance. Unlike other tedious State of the Unions, he didn’t waste time proposing federal programs to reduce steroid use or curb gang violence, which, while they sound nice, are not federal issues. Instead he set a broad domestic policy agenda (that was entirely economic-no social issues discussed at all) and focused on building support for the War on Terror and his foreign policy goals. That’s entirely appropriate for a President. He managed to strike a bipartisan, unconfrontational tone, but that also didn’t seem like he was cowed by the new Congress or his sagging poll numbers. Overall, a solid showing for the President.

On Iraq, the President was sober and conciliatory. He asked both sides of the aisle in Congress to give his new strategy involving augmentation of the troops in Baghdad and AlAnbar a chance. But he was clear about the context in which the Iraqi operation is playing. Abandoning our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, would lead to a wider conflict in the Middle East and would give our enemies victory in their declared war on our values.

The President spoke of the advances democracy made in 2005 in both Afghanistan and Iraq, with free elections and permanent constitutions, leading AlQaeda and other extremists to strike back in 2006 with the destruction of the golden mosque in Samarra, Iraq?an event designed to foment the sectarian violence that we are witnessing now.

The new strategy in Iraq has two major components: a commitment by the elected government of Iraq to control the violence in Baghdad by confronting violent groups and death squads from both Sunni and Shia extremists; and a commitment by the US to help that process in Baghdad while following up the positive signs in AlAnbar where tribal leaders are increasingly turning against AlQaeda terrorists. Both of these initiatives would require additional troops to give them some permanence.

Above all, President Bush was clear about the overall struggle against both Sunni (AlQaeda) terrorism and Shia (Hezbollah) terrorism: that it would be long-term, strategic, multigenerational. It is the defining struggle of our time and as such deserves the sense of national unity that will ensure victory.

Charlotte Hays writes…
The most beleaguered president in our history went to the Capitol tonight and gave a fine, and at times very fine, State of the Union address. George Bush was gracious to the Democrats and, more surprising, did not show the war fatigue he must feel even more than the rest of us. There was a little too much of a grab bag in the domestic portions of the speech (for some bizarre reason, ethanol is always good for a round of applause), but he didn?t propose a tax hike to pay for health insurance (as I predicted). Quite the contrary, he proposed tax cuts to help the uninsured. Glad to be wrong. But I’ll leave the domestic aspects of the SOTU to Carrie Lukas.

Iraq was the overhanging issue of this speech, and on that Bush delivered. This was one of his best speeches on Iraq.

“This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in,” he said. “Every one of us wishes that 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. Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. So let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory.”

The president didn’t fall back on irritating and repeated rhetorical devices (such as “stay the course” or referring repeatedly to Saddam as “the dictator”- both of which, of course, are obsolete, as we are changing the course and the dictator has met a richly deserved fate) and his summary of recent history in the Middle East was concise and specific. Is this the first time he has referred to Sunni extremists and Shiía extremists?

Bush can’t retreat because he regards the war in Iraq as part of (and a very important part of) a decisive existential struggle–not a matter of polls or scrambling for cover, as the Democrats and some Republicans on the Hill do. David Corn of the Nation predicted that Bush would speak but nobody would listen. I think Corn is wrong. The president used his time well to explain what will happen if we do not follow through:

“If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. 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 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 11th and invite tragedy. And 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.

“This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now.”

That was the challenge to those who want to retreat. George Bush got an A tonight.

Allison Kasic
President Bush is to be applauded for pushing several free-market domestic initiatives in tonight’s speech. The President’s economic points were right on the mark: we need a balanced budget (without raising taxes), earmark reform, and entitlement reform to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Bush’s push away from universal health care and toward individual choice is also a move in the right direction. Reducing the tax burden for individual insurance coverage will allow for increased flexibility in our healthcare decisions. Bush drove this point home saying, “we must remember that the best healthcare decisions are made not by government and insurance companies, but by patients and their doctors.” That was one of the best quotes of the night. I wish Bush had spent more time devoted to entitlement reform–to push the new Congress to action on Social Security. Otherwise, Bush’s attitude toward the new Democratic majority was entirely appropriate. He managed to walk the fine line between being conciliatory and standing his ground (he did an especially good job of this balance in regards to the war on terror).

To schedule an interview with Carrie, Charlotte, Yasmine, or Allison, please email Kate Pomeroy at [email protected].