February 1, 2008
By Helle C. Dale
It was not exactly a farewell speech, but there was still a
sense of the passing of the baton at President Bush's State of the
Union Monday night. This would be the last time for eight years
that Mr. Bush addressed Congress, and perhaps for that reason the
atmosphere was more courteous and the bipartisan applause more
generous than has otherwise been the case in recent years. You
could not help wonder who will be standing in that spot next
Panning television cameras found it irresistible to dwell on the
presidential candidates. They were particularly drawn to Sen.
Barack Obama, who sat next to Sen. Edward Kennedy and had just
received his endorsement. The two were chit-chatting and thick as
thieves. Meanwhile Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, dressed in
eye-catching red, sported a thin little smile and clapped
perfunctorily when it seemed impossible to avoid.
The speech itself was not one of the orations we have seen in
the past, but was a commitment to finish unfinished business. What
should be fundamental is that the president resist the temptation
to overreach in the interest of building his own legacy - or sign
poison-pill treaties in legislation in the 11th hour that the next
president will have to contend with.
On foreign policy, Mr. Bush had many good things to say, and a
few that will undoubtedly turn out to be a bridge too far. The
conclusion of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization this
year would probably require nothing less than a miracle. Free trade
agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea would merely
require a congressional coalition of Republicans and free-trade
Democrats, though that may be equally hard to come by, of
Still, it is greatly in the interest of the United States to
close those deals, not only to reach markets with tariff-free
access to 100 million new consumers, but as the president pointed
out: "If we fail we will embolden the purveyors of false populism."
To ease the pains of labor movement due to globalization, Mr. Bush
pledged renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, which got
much bigger applause from Democrats than any other reference to
The president had many good things to say on energy security.
His commitment to reduce dependence on oil was accompanied by a
commitment to new clean energy technologies, in which he challenged
Congress to double funding for the research. He also laid down the
marker that any new international agreement on greenhouse emissions
must include all the world's major economies, not giving China and
India a pass as did the Kyoto Treaty.
The president's freedom agenda did not entirely get lost, but it
did not quite have the ring to it as it did in the past when it was
Mr. Bush's visionary call to action. The agenda has run into some
hard realities, particularly in the Middle East. He did remind
Congress, though, that the struggle against terrorism will be the
"defining struggle of the 21st century," and that it is a struggle
in which we do not stand alone. He even got a solid round of
bipartisan applause for promising to "stay on the offensive against
and deliver justice to our enemies." In the
nothing-short-of-a-miracle department, Mr. Bush promised that
"there will be a Palestinian state" by the end of this year.
Leaders on both sides recognize the importance of peace, he said.
This may be true, but other leaders, like Hamas and their
supporters in Iran, recognize the importance of keeping the
terrorist cauldron boiling.
It is true, nonetheless, that progress in Iraq will have a
crucial impact on how the Middle East evolves in coming years. A
peaceful, stable Iraq will indeed be a friend to the United States,
whereas a collapsing Iraq that has become a base for terrorists
will be a region-wide disaster.
Mr. Bush spent a good deal of his time outlining progress and
promising developments. In cooperation with the Iraqi government,
the surge is working, and working so well that the president could
promise that troops will be drawn down by 20,000 next year.
"Some may deny that the surge is working," he said, b"ut among
the terrorists, there is no doubt." Iraq and the fight against
terrorism will for better or worse - one hopes for better - be the
essential legacy of this Bush administration. As it looks now,
history may well be kinder to the president than contemporary
commentary has been for some time.
Helle Dale is
director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy
Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the Washington Times
It was not exactly a farewell speech, but there was still a sense of the passing of the baton at President Bush's State of the Union Monday night. This would be the last time for eight years that Mr. Bush addressed Congress, and perhaps for that reason the atmosphere was more courteous and the bipartisan applause more generous than has otherwise been the case in recent years. You could not help wonder who will be standing in that spot next year.
Helle C. Dale
Senior Fellow for Public Diplomacy
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