Bush's speech to address challenges facing U.S.

Published: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 24, 2003 at 11:15 p.m.
WASHINGTON - President Bush will brace the nation for the prospect of war in next week's State of the Union address, contending Saddam Hussein has "massive piles" of weapons of mass destruction.
Most Americans don't believe Bush has made his case for military conflict in Iraq, thus the president begins Tuesday night with a major effort to sway public opinion and ease the concerns of allies abroad.
"This is not a speech to declare war," Dan Bartlett, the White House communications director, said Friday. "It's a speech to continue to educate the public about why we are taking the course that we are, that we have the prospect of war and it's important to explain why."
The annual address comes as Bush is buffeted by churning political and diplomatic waters. In addition to doubts about his Iraq policies, most Americans are telling pollsters they don't agree with Bush's plans for the ailing economy.
Critics are raising their voices.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., spoke for many leading Democrats on Friday when she accused Bush of fostering a "myth" of domestic security. "Time has passed and our vigilance has faded," she said as Bush heralded the first day of operation for the Department of Homeland Security.
France, Germany and other traditional U.S. allies are pressing Bush to be more patient with Saddam Hussein and give weapons inspectors more time to scour Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.
The White House says Saddam has thousands of weapons of mass destruction last known to be in Iraq during the 1990s inspections. Bush says Iraq must disarm or prove that Saddam has already done so.
Iraq says it has no such weapons. U.N. weapons inspectors have found a dozen or so empty chemical weapons shells - nothing near the stockpile that the White House asserts Saddam has. Mindful of the high stakes, Bush rehearsed the address behind closed doors Friday, four days before he stands before Congress and a worldwide television audience at a pivotal point of his 2-year-old administration.
"An overall theme and the overall sense you will get from the speech is there are great challenges, there is a lot for us to address both at home and abroad," Bartlett told reporters in his West Wing office.
"These are big challenges because these are big times," he said. "We are equal to the task."
On the domestic front, Bartlett said Bush will tout his $670 billion, 10-year tax-cut plan, propose changes in the nation's health care system - including the Medicare program - and unveil plans to help people stuck in "pockets of despair and hopelessness."
Other aides said Bush's plans include new initiatives to make more federal community services money available to religious groups. He also wants to make it easier for small businesses to form health insurance pools.
The speech comes one day after U.N. weapons inspectors present their findings to the Security Council, a report sure to offer fodder to both the White House and its critics.
For his address, Bush is expected to draw from speeches delivered this week by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Armitage said Iraq has not accounted for 30,000 chemical warheads, 550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas, 26,000 liters of anthrax and caches of botulism, VX nerve agent and the sarin gas last known to be in Iraq in the 1990s.
Wolfowitz outlined what he said was evidence of Saddam's defiance.
White House aides, frustrated by the sagging polls, said Bush will counter misperceptions about his policies Tuesday night. Bartlett said Bush will "talk about the direct nature and threat that the Iraq regime poses due the massive piles of weapons of mass destruction it currently possesses."

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