President Bush outlined his second term priorities in the annual State of the Union address Wednesday, saying he will continue to pursue democracy in the Middle East and will push for changes to the federal pension program in the United States.
Marking his re-election to a second term, the President told members of Congress that they all share a great privilege with everyone in the world who holds elected office. "We have been placed in office by the votes of the people we serve. And tonight that is a privilege we share with newly elected leaders of Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine, and a free and sovereign Iraq," he said.
Much of the president's speech focused on the effort to spread freedom because, he says, if whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be recruiting ground for terror that will stalk America and other nations for decades.
Echoing his inauguration address, Mr. Bush said America supports democratic movements in the Middle East and beyond, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny. "The United States has no right, no desire, and no intention to impose our form of government on anyone else. That is one of the main differences between us and our enemies," he said. "They seek to impose and expand an empire of oppression, in which a tiny group of brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life. Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free and independent nations, with governments that answer to their citizens, and reflect their own cultures."
President Bush says terrorists have chosen to make a stand in Iraq because it is a vital front in the war on terror. But he says the higher-than-expected turn-out in Sunday's elections in Iraq show that what he calls a "small group of extremists" will not "overturn the will of the Iraqi people." "And the victory of freedom in Iraq will strengthen a new ally in the war on terror, inspire democratic reformers from Damascus to Tehran, bring more hope and progress to a troubled region, and thereby lift a terrible threat from the lives of our children and grandchildren," he said.
Mr. Bush went on to say that because democracies respect their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom leads to peace.
To promote peace in the broader Middle East, the president says America must confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue weapons of mass murder. He says Syria still allows its territory, and parts of Lebanon, to be used by terrorists.
Mr. Bush says Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom he says "they seek and deserve." He told the people of Iran that as they stand for their own liberty, America stands with them.
In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the president is asking Congress for 350 million dollars to support Palestinian political, economic, and security reforms.
With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaving Thursday for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, President Bush says the beginnings of reform and democracy in the Palestinian territories are showing the power of freedom to break old patterns of violence and failure. "The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace is within reach -- and America will help them achieve that goal," he said.
The first domestic goal of the president's second term is reforming the federal pension program known as Social Security. Mr. Bush wants to allow younger workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in private accounts to gain a higher rate of return.
Democrats say the plan means younger workers could lose much of their retirement savings in the uncertainty of financial markets.
Mr. Bush says the plan will limit investments to a conservative mix of bonds and stock funds and will ensure that earnings are not lost in hidden Wall Street fees.
The president hits the road Thursday to promote his Social Security plan with two days of speeches in the states of North Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas, and Florida.