Tuesday night our country heard a lame duck quacking, and it was a sad sound. We saw President Bush offer defeated idea after defeated idea to a Congress disinclined to pursue further defeat; a leader who demanded bipartisanship without taking a step across the aisle; a man slipping into irrelevance missing his last chance to create a meaningful legacy. This President is wrong about Iraq, about terrorism, about Iran, about domestic policy. Though this is a song sung many times before, all citizens—especially we liberals—have a duty to push back against the ignorance we saw when the state of our precious Union was declared strong.
The president has been demagoging the tragedy of 9/11 for six years. He did so once again, dispensing an intellectually dishonest cocktail of terrorism, Iraq and Iran. For the record: there is no connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Terrorism only came to Iraq after we gave it the opportunity. Terrorists, Shi’a and Sunni alike, are not monolithic, and they do not fight us because they are evil and we are good. They fight us for disparate reasons of religion, politics and humiliation. Our answer cannot be merely more will; our country has displayed its will over the previous four years. There is no simple answer to the struggle of our generation; yes, it will be a long fight, but it needs to be a smart one.
These pages have already commented on the president’s plan for a troop surge in Iraq, so it suffices us to ask what expanding the relative safety of the Green Zone to all of Baghdad would do to improve the security situation in the entire country? There is no military solution in Iraq, barring the hypothetical deployment of 500,000 American troops. There must be a political solution, and it must be regional, including Syria and Iran. This administration has turned down numerous diplomatic overtures from Iran, and now rushes to escalate tension while refusing to negotiate. Iran is a problem, both in terms of Iraq and nuclear proliferation, but while taking a threat seriously is important; making a threat furiously is a mistake. Right now, neither Iran nor its proxy Hezbollah is a threat to the U.S., though it could be, in five or ten years.
In the vague sketches he offered on domestic policy, the president’s ideas were far from bold. He declared himself ready to end the deficit, despite never vetoing a spending bill, and instead advocating his party’s rapacious subsidies and earmarks, his massive tax cuts, and his expensive war. He will no doubt send a budget to the Democratic (not “Democrat”) majority that will cut their priorities and reinforce his. When Congress rejects it, he will say the Democrats lack fiscal discipline. His plan for healthcare is less progressive than those supported by Republican Governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mitt Romney, much less Congress. The best we can say about his ideas for education, re-upping No Child Left Behind and adding school vouchers, is that it is out-of-date and not nearly enough to solve the problems of American education. His plan for entitlements—privatization—was defeated before Congress had a Democratic majority. Perhaps most tellingly, he failed to mention the tragedy of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.
Mr. Bush’s only remarkable initiative is the idea of lowering future gasoline usage by 20 percent in the next 10 years by investing in alternative energy and raising fuel efficiency standards for cars. This is an idea too long in coming; one hopes the president is more serious about implementing it than his infamous, proposed visit to Mars.
The president spent his second-to-last State of the Union defending his policies and inspiring fear rather than offering a plan of hope for the future. He was still trying to convince us that the War on Terror led to Iraq. By citing examples of foiled terrorist plots, he aimed to prove that his policies have prevented attacks on the U.S.
But this administration has failed to understand the facts on the ground—any ground. It has failed to respond to the 2006 election, one that directly reprimanded its policies, especially those that led to the War in Iraq. President Bush is not a man to see the world as it is, or listen to the demands of the people he leads. It falls to Congress, the courts and the people to see the United States through the next two years.