Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Last State of the Union Address by President Bush: A Baton to the Next President

Media reports on American politics are predominantly related to the election these days, and it seems that people have already forgotten about the current administration. However, whoever wins this election, the next president will succeed unfinished jobs of President George W. Bush. The State of the Union Address on January 28 is a baton to be handed from President Bush to his successor. The economy and Middle East issues are the key in this message. It is quite strange that the Union Address this year draws such little attention, even though it is an election year.

Prior to the Union Address, the Economist questioned whether President Bush can achieve anything before he leaves office (“George Bush’s Last Year”; January 28). Despite successful surge in Iraq last year, the Economist says that things are not likely to go easily for Bush this year. Foreign policy agendas, such as Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, will dominate the final year. Also, George W. Bush will have NATO Summit in Romania and APEC Summit in Peru. However, as I quoted Strobe Talbott’s comment in a previous post, the President will hand his half done job his successor.

The focus of the Union Address is the economy and the War on Terror. Just before the President’s speech, Michael Abramowitz, Staff Writer of the Washington Post, analyzed political trends this year (“Economy, War to Dominate State of Union”; January 28). Abramowitz says that the public is shifting their attention from Iraq to the economy due to the Subprime Lending problem, and the President cannot afford to talk about domestic reforms on immigration and Social Security sufficiently. White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino said "It is unrealistic to expect that this Congress is going to take on such big problems this year." While admitting some tactical progress in Iraq, Democrats argue that overall strategic conditions in the War on Terror have not radically improved.

Let me review the speech, and comment briefly. As to the economy, the Subprime lending was not a big issue in this speech, and the President just mentioned the following.

Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, modernize the Federal Housing Administration, and allow state housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to help homeowners refinance their mortgages.

On the other hand, George W. Bush spent the latter half of the speech on the War on Terror. Among related issues, the President spoke overwhelmingly on Iraq. The President spent much time to emphasize vital role of the US forces to bring peace and stability in Iraq. George W. Bush illustrated the meaning of the Iraq War as the following.

The mission in Iraq has been difficult and trying for our nation. But it is in the vital interest of the United States that we succeed. A free Iraq will deny al Qaeda a safe haven. A free Iraq will show millions across the Middle East that a future of liberty is possible. A free Iraq will be a friend of America, a partner in fighting terror, and a source of stability in a dangerous part of the world.

By contrast, a failed Iraq would embolden the extremists, strengthen Iran, and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies, and our homeland. The enemy has made its intentions clear. At a time when the momentum seemed to favor them, al Qaeda’s top commander in Iraq declared that they will not rest until they have attacked us here in Washington. My fellow Americans: We will not rest either. We will not rest until this enemy has been defeated.

I agree to this.

But quite strangely, the President did not mention Pakistan, another critical frontline of the War on Terror and nuclear non-proliferation, so much. Considering security in Iraq is improving, and the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan is turning increasingly dangerous, I feel this odd. I wonder whether it means that the current administration is not in a position to take a big action in Pakistan. In any case, I hope that the President shows some measure to prevent Pakistan from falling into another Iran.

Just after the Union Address, the Economist analyzed political atmosphere in America (“Lexington: George Bush’s Last Grandstand”; January 31). Though the President advocated economic stimulus and continual surge in Iraq, the former is already in work through bipartisan stimulus package and the latter’s result depends on the successor. Since his jobs in foreign and domestic policy are likely to be unfinished, Bush will not achieve historical landmark in his final year. Both Republicans and Democrats are exploring post Bush politics.

According to this article, Democrat candidates Barack Obama and Hilary Rodham Clinton agree on policy, but disagree about methods. While Clinton thinks of using existing political channels in Washington to pursue her policy objectives, Obama disposes this. Republicans debate fundamental philosophy: whether to return to Reaganism or not; how to deal with climate change; and what role conservative faith should play. No longer need to defend George W. Bush from political enemies, Republicans can talk such philosophical agendas.

The Washington Post argues similarly (“Final Year’s Realities Push Big Ideas into Background”; January 29). However, Peter Baker, Staff Writer of the Post, points out that Bush has more freedom to focus on his agenda, as neither he nor the vice president is running for election. The great dreams of remaking Social Security, immigration law, and tax code have gone, and the only agenda he can concentrate on is the War on Terror.

It is true that importance of the current administration has diminished drastically, as both parties are exploring post-Bush domestic politics and world order. Still, the War on Terror is in progress. Things in Iraq have improved, but the coalition has not completed its mission to stabilize this country. Pakistan and Afghanistan are in critical atmospheres. Also, the President will attend NATO Summit at Bucharest, Romania in April, which is the key to arrange relations between the United States and its allies for the global strategic partnership. The next president will receive the baton from President Bush. The Bush legacy will determine his or her policy. Therefore, more attention to the final State of the Union Address is necessary.