One of the lines one heard around the inauguration was that presidential second terms are a time of caution. All of the big achievements come during first terms, so second terms are all about preservation and legacy. Maybe that was wishful thinking on the part of those who want to blunt the momentum coming off the 2004 elections. There was certainly nothing temporizing in Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech, particularly in the sections dealing with security and international relations. Rather it exuded confidence; certainty in the achievements of the past four years, and conviction that the course of events is moving decidedly in our favor.
For example, President Bush repeated the objective laid out in the inauguration of ending tyranny worldwide. He used the recent anti-democratic statements of the terrorists to frame his own message of hope for a free and peaceful world. The terrorists have lately been making it simple to define the parameters of the ideological struggle by staking out their own ground: anti-freedom, anti-elected governments, and anti-human rights. The United States on the other hand can point to the achievements of the people in Ukraine, the Palestinian Authority, Afghanistan, and, of course, Iraq to show which way the tide of history is running. They are “landmark events in the history of liberty,” the president said, and after the inspirational events Sunday in Iraq, even some of the president’s critics are beginning to get into the spirit of things. Of course, tyranny is unlikely to come to an end around the world during the second term, but neither is this a marker the president is likely to retreat from.
President Bush also had some tough words for two of the losers in Sunday’s election, Syria and Iran. The Syrians have been growing increasingly nervous as the pillars of their foreign policy weaken and collapse. There is a growing spirit of reconciliation to the south, an emerging democracy to the east, and in Lebanon, signs that the political equation may be turning against them. At home, there is restiveness among the people who see Syria as missing out on the progress being made elsewhere. Even Khadaffi’s Libya has seen the light. However, Syria persists in giving aid and sanctuary to terrorists, and worse, serving as a willing transit point for men, money, and arms flowing in to the foreign fighters in Iraq. This cannot be brooked for long, not when American lives are at stake. Similarly, the president called Iran “the world’s primary state sponsor of terror” and condemned the Iranian nuclear program, which has the potential of generating the nexus of rogue regime, WMD and terrorism we sought to eliminate in Iraq. The inspiring words for the Iranian people, “as you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you,” should come across loud and clear given recent events next door. One hopes the people will be further inspired to take matters into their own hands and seize the freedom that is theirs by right.
And, of course, President Bush reaffirmed our commitment to Iraq and the Iraqi people. As critics nattered about timetables for withdrawal, the president reasserted that we were there for the long haul, to finish hat we had started; not to implement an exit strategy but to achieve victory. We have come markedly closer to that objective in the past week as the terrorists placed themselves in objective opposition to the aspirations of the Iraqi people. No insurgency can persist with that degree of mass based opposition. As the Iraqi government forms and the moral authority of the new system grows, the terrorists’ already questionable legitimacy will collapse. They have repeatedly claimed to be engaged in a long-term struggle, pitting their will against the Coalition in a bloody endurance test. They will find that lacking military power and popular support, the test will not be as long as they think. The terrorists will soon be the ones seeking an exit strategy, because our side clearly is not giving an inch.