Experts say Iraq will be a key focus of address

Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 12:31 a.m.


FYI: Speech coverage

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  • In his first State of the Union speech last year, President Bush strove to rally a generally supportive nation around the war on terrorism sparked by the terrorist attacks four months earlier.
    "Axis of Evil" was the catchphrase of the night.
    Another war will be a main theme of Bush's second State of the Union address tonight. But this time, some area observers say, expect the aggressive rhetoric to be softened as the president tries to lay out his reasons for possibly going to war with Iraq to an increasingly skeptical nation.
    "I think Bush will start his speech talking about the economy and health care," said Richard Conley, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Florida and a specialist on the American presidency.
    "But that will take up maybe a third to a quarter of his talk," he said. "I think the majority of the speech will be on Iraq. He's really got to lay out his case about the necessity of going to war."
    Conley said he expects Bush to speak "forcefully" about Iraq, but doubts that an "Axis of Evil"-type phrase will be incorporated into his address.
    "There were differing perspectives on whether that was a good thing to say or not," he said. "I think he's been asked by some of his advisers to tone down the rhetoric. He'll speak forcefully, but my gut instinct is that he'll refrain from statements like that."
    Two senior White House officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bush intends to reiterate his assertion that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and is linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. But new evidence of those charges will not be revealed until next week by Secretary of State Colin Powell, perhaps at the United Nations, the officials said.
    They said Bush opted for a broad argument against Saddam in part to avoid having the State of the Union dominated by Iraq.
    Not just on Iraq Travis Horn, chairman of the Alachua County Republican Party, said he would expect Bush to acknowledge the battered economy.
    "But I think it'll be a positive address focusing on the economic rebound that appears to have begun in the last quarter," said Horn, who plans to join fellow Republicans at Steve's Cafe Americain tonight for a State of the Union viewing party. "And President Bush rarely gives a speech without mentioning his emphasis on education as a key to growing the economy and becoming a stronger nation."
    The White House officials said Bush is expected to push a new plank in his "faith-based" initiative and planned to ask Congress for $200 million next fiscal year for vouchers to people seeking drug treatment. The vouchers would allow them to seek help at any treatment center, including those with religious approaches, the officials said.
    Horn said he understands the need for Bush to explain his reasoning behind war with Iraq.
    "I think George W. Bush's most important duty is without question that of protecting our national security," Horn said. "He bears the sole responsibility of preventing the catastrophic effects of some entity employing weapons of mass destruction against the citizens of this country. He's cognizant that national security is his foremost duty as commander-in- chief."
    Democratic response Horn's counterpart in the local Democratic Party, Chuck Floyd, said he thinks Bush will have a difficult time selling the war in tonight's speech. "His popularity is slipping, so I think he'll go for the jugular with Iraq," said Floyd, chairman of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee. "I think the president will wrap himself in the flag and do the whole saber-rattling thing to support his inevitable going to war with Iraq.
    "The economy is in such terrible shape and he wants to take people's minds off that," he said. "I think he'll continue to enforce the agenda of the radical right on domestic issues."
    He said he expects the Democratic response to Bush's address to emphasize "that the United States is not known for being an aggressive nation."
    "I think Bush is ready to go to war no matter what the U.N. inspectors find," Floyd said. "The Democrats may talk about wanting more proof of weapons of mass destruction and of the need for U.N. support before we go into this."
    For the history books Ron Carpenter, a UF professor of English who has taught speech-writing for 30 years, said that in the face of recent demonstrations against war with Iraq, Bush faces a tough challenge tonight in choosing just the right words as he makes his pitch for military force.
    "A speech like this opens the door to sound-bite sentences," he said. "The right words at the right time in the right order can sometimes galvanize a people.
    "If made well, the right words do have this kind of ability to become the morals that guide behavior," Carpenter said. "Think about the (President) Kennedy line, 'Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.' After that, a generation of Americans were caught up in the notion of the Peace Corps.
    "If Bush is smart, he'll find out what some of those salient words are," Carpenter said. "Some of his sentences in (tonight's) speech are going to be in the history books. He had better be listening to a wide range of advisers."
    The Associated Press contributed to this report. Bob Arndorfer can be reached at 374-5042 or

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