"Once again we are called to defend the safety of our people, and the hopes of all mankind." The words of George Bush's annual state-of-the-union address were full of lofty sentiments. But the President aims were more prosaic. Half way through his first term of office, his popularity ratings are falling. He is worried that he may not get re-elected in two years time. The first part of his speech, not accidentally, concentrated on the state of the economy: "We must have an economy that grows fast enough to employ every man and woman who seeks a job," Bush declared.
His analysis of what needs to be done was not even worthy of a simpleton. In typical Bushism he stated that: "Jobs are created when the economy grows; the economy grows when Americans have more money to spend and invest; and the best, fairest way to make sure Americans have that money is not to tax it away in the first place." When he refers to "Americans" he is obviously not referring to all Americans, but only to the rich. That is clear when he adds that: "It is fair to tax a company's profits. It is not fair to again tax the shareholder on the same profits. To boost investor confidence, and to help the nearly 10 million seniors who receive dividend income, I ask you to end the unfair double taxation of dividends." Put quite simply, this means all those speculators in the Stock markets are to be allowed to make profits from their perfectly useless activities completely tax free. The American worker will continue to be squeezed and the sons of the American workers will be asked to risk their lives for the profits of the oil barons.
In fact the central plank in his stimulus package, is exclusively for the benefit of the rich: the $674 billion worth of tax cuts and other measures that he is now hoping to get through Congress. But, as The Economist points out: "job creation was one of the key aims put forward in last year's state-of-the-union address, and yet, in spite of the 2001 tax cuts and the stimulus package put together a year ago, the economy has lost more than 180,000 private-sector jobs in the past 12 months. Unemployment has risen to 6%. Those opposed to the latest round of tax-cut proposals complain that they are unfairly skewed in favour of the rich and are in any case unlikely to be effective in kick-starting a sluggish economy. They will, though, succeed in pushing the budget deficit through the roof. Hours before the president spoke, his budget director said that this year's deficit could hit a new record of $300 billion."
image by Natasha Solona
As he prepared to get to the essential part of his speech - that is, the planned war on Iraq - he listed all the plans to improve social security, health care, education… But no improvement is to be forthcoming in these fields. For example, he pointed out that: "…for many people, medical care costs too much - and many have no coverage at all." But he added that: "These problems will not be solved with a nationalized health care system…" He even managed to talk about the environment, promising a hydrogen driven car within a generation. This from a man with huge oil interests, and from the same man who has refused to abide by the Kyoto agreements!
The reason why Bush was forced to dedicate half his speech to social and economic questions, promising all things to all men and women, is that the mood in the USA is changing. On the eve of the new war in the Gulf, the US economy is in deep trouble. A majority of Americans are now questioning the president's economic management; and not only that.
Many ordinary working Americans are doubtful about the wisdom of waging war on Iraq. So are America's "allies". Bush knows that the recession of the early 1990s played the key role in his father's failure to win a second term of office in the 1992 election. Although America won the war, Bush senior lost the presidency ("It's the economy, stupid!"). Things are not going as planned!
The recent mass demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco of over half a million people were a warning of what awaits America once the guns start firing. Similarly in Europe there is a widespread opposition to the war even before war has been declared. This itself reflects a ferment of discontent in society that is seeking an outlet. On February 15, there will be antiwar demonstrations in most of Europe's capitals and huge turnouts are expected.
In Britain, where foreign minister Jack Straw immediately announced that Iraq was in a state of non-compliance, the mood of the public is solidly against the war, and a hundred Labour MPs are threatening to rebel. Political commentator Andrew Marr is warning of a seismic reaction, especially if war goes ahead without the backing of the UN. In London the organisers are expecting at least half a million to turn out on February 15!
In a desperate attempt to rally support for his war plans, in his state-of-the-union speech, Bush repeated the claim that Saddam is sheltering terrorists: "Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications, and statements by people now in custody, reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaida. Secretly, and without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists, or help them develop their own." And in order to scare the American people he added: "Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons, and other plans - this time armed by Saddam Hussein."
He completely ignores the fact that al-Qaeda has always been hostile to Saddam Hussein's regime. There is no proven link between the two. But the lie has to be maintained, otherwise they would have to admit the real reasons for attacking Iraq, that are based on control of oil reserves and on strategic interests of US imperialism in the region. But to say that openly would not go down well with the public who are already very suspicious of the whole operation.
He argued that Iraq had failed to demonstrate to the weapons inspectors and to other countries that it had any intention of disarming. Saddam, said Mr Bush, had treated his final chance with contempt. Yet none of this amounts to a serious reason for unleashing the dogs of war.
All this explains why the American public is getting restive and even in the tame congress voices are beginning to be raised expressing grave doubts about the wisdom of the whole enterprise. Some of the US ruling class are becoming aware of the risks as the day of invasion draws closer. This applies particularly to the Democrats. Senator Edward Kennedy said he would seek another vote in Congress before American troops went into action, while Senator John Kerry, one of the Democratic candidates for next year's presidential election, accused Mr Bush of "blustering unilateralism". This "opposition" however, will not mean that the Democrats will wage any serious campaign against the war. They represent the same interests as the Republicans. Senator Joseph Lieberman, another contender for the Democratic nomination, said the president had begun to make an effective case "in a way he hasn't done before".
Even The Economist, which has all along adopted a hawkish stand on Iraq, is now sounding a worried note of caution: "In two years, Mr Bush said, America had gone from a sense of invulnerability to an awareness of great peril, and from bitter division in small matters to calm unity in great causes. That unity might not yet be as strong as Mr Bush would like." Of course that doesn't mean its editors are calling on Bush to step back. It is merely advising him that he must do a little more to present a more convincing case.
As a result of the growing opposition inside the US George W had to adopt a cautious tone in his speech. He stopped short of declaring war. And he made it clear that he will continue to try to get United Nations backing for any military action against Iraq. This sudden concern with the opinions of the UN is not in itself proof of any change of heart in the White House. But Bush has now got it into his thick skull that in order to overcome the resistance to war at home and abroad he will have to pull a rabbit out of his Texan Stetson hat sooner rather than later.
In order to muster public opinion in support of Bush's domestic and foreign policies some theatrical coup is needed. We can expect something of the sort pretty soon. He therefore announced that Colin Powell, the secretary of state, will present intelligence evidence that "demonstrates" Iraq's links with terrorists and its continuing efforts to develop the notorious weapons of mass destruction to the UN Security Council on February 5th. What this amounts to is that they will fabricate whatever "evidence" they need. No one will be able to prove or disprove it. The world will just have to accept the word of Bush.
In spite of his manoeuvrings, Mr Bush left his audience in no doubt of his determination to act - with or without allies. The massive movement of troops and equipment to the Gulf has long ago reached the point of no return. Having gone so far, Bush cannot turn back now even if he wanted to do so.