State of the (dis)Union

I watched President Bush's State of the Union address last night. After calling for a balanced budget (I'm not sure if it was such a priority for the Republican Congress to balance the budget, but anyway..), health care tax credits, and immigration reform, he got to the main thrust of his speech: a defense of the war in Iraq and a request for support for "the surge." I have to admit that most of it was so familiar that it barely registered
The president reiterated US commitment to Middle East democracy, although as has been noted on this blog, Rice's recent tour of Arab autocrats is just one sign of our complete abandonment of any pressure for serious democratic reform in the region.
Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies -- and most will choose a better way when they're given a chance. So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates and reformers and brave voices for democracy. The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security, we must.

About Iraq, he had this to say:

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime.    A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally -- their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America.To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger.[...]

Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work.

The response to this speech has been underwhelming. I saw headlines this morning saying the president "pleads" and "begs" for support, and that his policy faces "challenges."
You can read the whole State of the Union here. You can read the Democratic response (it's much shorter and more interesting)--given by newly-elected Senator Webb, who's son is serving in Iraq--here.
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Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.