Monitoring Bush (a continuing series)

Most of President Bush’s State of the Union address to Congress Wednesday was devoted to domestic issues. That means I disagreed with most of what he said– especially about the need to “save” Social Security with private accounts. (It was good to hear some Democrats shouting “No!” at his dubious assertions about coming collapse of the Social Security system. That sort of thing is much rarer here than it is in the House of Commons.) And he repeated his claims that “junk” lawsuits are holding back the economy and that the “sacred institution” of marriage needs to be protected from gay people.

But if you believe words can have consequences– especially the words of an American President– perhaps it’s worth noting some of the things he said when the speech turned to foreign policy:

To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom… The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

Now you can read this however you want, but I’d imagine the ruling circles in Riyadh and Cairo would take this as a none-too-welcome public warning (however politely phrased) to stop stalling on democratic reforms.

Bush, unsurprisingly, was less delicate with Syria and Iran:

To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance of peace in the region.

You have passed, and we are applying, the Syrian Accountability Act, and we expect the Syrian government to end all support for terror and open the door to freedom.

Today, Iran remains the world’s primary state sponsor of terror, pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve. We are working with European allies to make clear to the Iranian regime that it must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing and end its support for terror. And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you.

I hope Iranians drew some encouragement from Bush’s words despite– or more likely because of— their government’s predictable reaction. I suspect that the more Bush denounces the despised mullahs, the more popular he becomes on the Iranian “street.”

No doubt about the high point of the evening– and it had nothing to do with Bush’s speech. It was when two women seated in the gallery embraced. They were Safia Taleb al-Suhail, leader of the Iraqi Women’s Political Council (whose father was murdered by Saddam Hussein’s agents) and Janet Norwood, mother of a Marine killed in the assault of Fallujah. When she was introduced by Bush, Ms. al-Suhail proudly displayed her ink-stained finger.