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Journalists Have Mixed Reaction to Bush State of the Union Speech


In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Bush for the first time faced a Congress in which the opposition Democratic Party holds a majority. He made an urgent defense of his new Iraq policy, which includes sending more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq to help its democratically elected government battle terrorists and insurgents. President Bush begged his countrymen to give his new strategy a chance.

But Nadia Bilbassy, senior correspondent with al-Arabiya television, says President Bush will have trouble convincing a skeptical audience in the Arab world that his new strategy will work – if he cannot convince his own people that deploying more troops can secure Baghdad, reduce sectarian violence in Iraq, and help stabilize the government. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Ms. Bilbassy notes that President Bush has offered “nothing new,” ignoring the advice of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and by refusing to talk with two of Iraq’s influential neighbors, Syria and Iran.

Likewise Israeli journalist Nathan Gutmann, Washington correspondent for the Forward, detects nothing newsworthy in President Bush’s “new” strategy. Mr. Gutmann says, for example, President Bush’s support for a two-state solution in the Middle East and his emphasis on peace in the Holy Land is standard fare in most of his speeches. But Israelis are relieved that the President is not “putting any pressure” on the Israeli government to adopt a new agenda in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Guttman says that for Israelis the main goal is “not to let Iran take over a failed Iraq,” and so they are pleased the U.S. President has named Iran as the “major destabilizing force in the region.”

People in Europe, in contrast, are amazed that President Bush can still speak of the possibility of victory in Iraq, according to Matthias Rueb, Washington bureau chief of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Mr. Rueb thinks the President may be trying to “buy time” from Congress so he can give his new strategy a chance to work. Another important area for Germany – and for Europe generally – is that President Bush “for the first time mentioned climate change without distancing himself from it.” Mr. Rueb calls the President’s proposal for reducing gasoline consumption in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years “bold.”

Specifically, President Bush favors a large government-mandated increase in “renewable fuels” – mainly ethanol – and tougher mileage standards. The President says that America is “on the verge of technological breakthroughs” that will make it less dependent on oil and that will enable its citizens to become “better stewards of the environment” and confront the “serious challenge of global climate change.”In his State of the Union address, President Bush also called for comprehensive immigration reform. And he announced proposals to make health care insurance affordable for more Americans. Matthias Rueb notes that most people in Europe believe it is the proper role of government to support health care for all citizens. However, the central theme of the President’s speech this year was Iraq. The question now is – what will the Congress do?

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