President Bush’s State of the Union address was a triple. The reason it wasn’t a home run has to do with the rhetorical legacy of Bill Clinton — the apparent need now to provide a laundry list of domestic programs that the president wishes Congress to fund. Accordingly, the first part of the speech was a reminder that “compassionate conservatism” can be almost expensive as unvarnished liberalism.
The second half of the speech however was magnificent. It provided one more illustration of the danger of underestimating George W. Bush. He laid out the case against Saddam so clearly that even the French could understand it. Once again, he challenged the United Nations to be something other than a debating society. The point, he said, is not the process but the result. Inspections were not a “scavenger hunt” but a means of verifying Saddam’s compliance with resolutions the U.N. has already passed
Rhetoric must be judged in terms of both form and substance, and the foreign policy portion of the address was noticeably superior in both categories to the first part of the speech. President Bush stated that the United States would “consult” with the Security Council, but that the nation’s course would not depend on the decisions of others. He observed that the United States was all that stood between a world of peace and world of chaos. But he ended his speech with a remarkable observation that vindicates the perspective of many conservatives: “the gift of liberty that Americans prize is not their gift to the world but the gift of God to humanity.”
Tuesday night’s address restores the momentum that had been lost as a result of the inspection process. With Secretary Powell’s session at the U.N. next week and another address by the president to a joint session of Congress, the train is moving. The French might want to buy a ticket.
— Mackubin Thomas Owens, an NRO contributing editor, is a professor of strategy and force planning at the Naval War College in Newport, RI. His observations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Naval War College or the Department of Defense.