Bush: `We will prevail'

President calls for defeat of terror and recession

State of Union urges reform of Medicare and worker pensions

`Time is not on our side'

The State Of The Union

January 30, 2002|By David L. Greene and Karen Hosler | David L. Greene and Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - President Bush told the nation last night that America's war on terrorism has only begun, warning that "dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder" are hiding around the world "like ticking time bombs - set to go off without warning."

"These enemies view the entire world as a battlefield," Bush said in his first State of the Union address. "We must pursue them wherever they are. So long as training camps operate, so long as nations harbor terrorists, freedom is at risk, and America and our allies must not, and will not, allow it."

As the fight against terrorism rages on, the president said, the United States will intensify pressure on countries that threaten America and its allies with weapons of mass destruction. Bush used his harshest rhetoric to date against three nations - Iraq, Iran and North Korea - singling them out as part of an "axis of evil" that threatens peace around the world.

"Time is not on our side," Bush said. "I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."

In a 48-minute address interrupted dozens of times by standing ovations and spirited applause from a joint session of Congress, the president sought to maintain the momentum of the anti-terror effort that followed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In a striking sign that Bush was looking to the future of the war and not to its past, he did not once utter the name Osama bin Laden, whom Bush had frequently called "the evil one" and had said he wanted "dead or alive."

Rather, Bush stressed that the United States is now also targeting other elements of a "terrorist underworld." He named such organizations as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, three Middle Eastern militant groups, and Jaish-I-Mohammed, which is active in disputed Kashmir. Such groups, Bush said, operate "in remote jungles and deserts" and hide "in the centers of large cities."

Mindful that the determination of many Americans to continue waging war abroad has been tempered by deep concern for the recession at home, Bush laid out his agenda for the year, promising that its focus would be to turn around the economy and protect the livelihoods of workers.

"We will prevail in the war, and we will defeat this recession," Bush said. "When America works, America prospers. So, my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs."

Riding the polls

The president entered last night's address enjoying remarkably high public approval. Opinion polls show that Bush's approval ratings remain above 80 percent nearly five months after the Sept. 11 attacks - an extraordinary duration for such high numbers in the history of the presidency. Before the attacks, the president had commanded the support of barely a majority of voters.

Bush's popularity is especially remarkable in light of the fact that many Americans say they are troubled about the economy. Voters often hold presidents responsible for economic troubles.

Security around the Capitol was extraordinarily tight. The Capitol grounds were closed to the public three hours before the 9 p.m. speech. Traffic was not allowed within three blocks of the Capitol. But Vice President Dick Cheney, who did not attend Bush's speech before Congress nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks, this time sat in his usual spot in the chamber behind the president.

The president went point by point through his legislative priorities for this year. He said he hopes that Congress will reform Medicare, approve a new energy policy for the nation and give the White House flexibility in negotiating international trade agreements.

He also called for stricter corporate accounting standards and pension reform - clear references to the fall of Enron Corp., which cost many employees their life savings. But Bush did not mention by name the Texas energy giant whose collapse triggered a scandal that has become a distraction for the president. Bush has been a close friend of Kenneth L. Lay, the company's former chairman and long one of his biggest campaign donors.

The core of last night's address was the message that America should be proud of its progress so far in recovering from the devastation of Sept. 11 but that the perils of terrorism have not abated and still demand an urgent response.

Looking back at his Sept. 20 appearance in the same chamber, Bush said: "We last met in an hour of shock and suffering." Over four stunning months, Bush said, the United States had begun to rebuild the World Trade Center and Pentagon, destroyed the al-Qaida terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and freed a country from oppression.

"Terrorist leaders who urged followers to sacrifice their lives are running for their own," Bush said.

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