Last night’s State of the Union struck me as less the speech of a lame duck than the speech of a candidate. That’s not to say it was a great speech. Candidates’ speeches seldom are. But Bush seemed energized and, well, presidential. He did not look — as he has on some occasions — weary or beaten down.
What did this speech accomplish? Bush renewed his “compassionate conservative” credentials. He revived (at long last) his fiscal conservative bona fides. And he asserted that even as a lame duck, he remains a hawk.
A year ago, it was difficult to argue that failure in Iraq was not inevitable. (I know because I was among those making that argument.) Today, Iraq is the one battlefield in the global war where American forces are defeating our sworn enemies, al-Qaeda and militias doing the bidding of Iraq’s Islamist mullahs. Bush deserves credit for changing course — albeit belatedly — and tonight he took some of that credit (while Democrats scowled).
But in his State of the Union six years ago, Bush spoke not just of Iraq but of an “axis of evil” that also included Iran and North Korea, rogue states “seeking weapons of mass destruction” and posing a “grave and growing danger.”
Bush stated memorably at that time: “I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”
Today, Iran remains a peril, and Bush did not suggest he would do anything meaningful to stop it from drawing closer over the months left to him. As for North Korea, it is still a gathering danger, one left unmentioned last evening. The world’s most dangerous regimes may yet threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons, a problem the next president will have to forcefully address — or not.
Final note: What is one to make of Bush’s apparent confidence in the imminent advent of peace between Israel and a “democratic Palestine”? Surely the chances for that are about equal to those for real Social Security reform, passage of a comprehensive immigration bill, and Harriet Myers getting a seat on the Supreme Court.