U.S. President George Bush says sending more troops to Iraq will make both Iraqis and Americans safer. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on the president's annual State of the Union address.

In his first State of the Union before a Congress led by political opponents, Mr. Bush congratulated Democrats now leading both the House and Senate, saying Congress has changed but its responsibilities have not.

"We are not the first to come here with government divided and uncertainty in the air," said Mr. Bush.  "Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and we can achieve big things for the American people. Our citizens don't much care which side of the aisle we sit on as long as we are willing to cross that aisle when there is work to be done."

Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans disapprove of the way the president is doing his job. Following the terrorist attacks of 2001, President Bush came to Congress for his 2002 State of the Union with an 84 percent approval rating. It is now 34 percent.

Much of that drop comes from opposition to the war in Iraq. President Bush has already launched what he says will be a new way forward in that conflict, sending more than 20,000 additional troops and holding Iraq's government to benchmarks for improving security and political cooperation.

White House officials say one of the reasons the war is unpopular is because Americans do not understand the link between fighting in Iraq and security at home.

So instead of going over the details of his plan again, President Bush sought to portray the battle's broader implications, telling Americans that it is a decisive ideological struggle between moderates and extremists with America's security in the balance.

"So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates, reformers, and brave voices for democracy," added Mr. Bush.  "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."

While recognizing opposition to his plan, Mr. Bush said the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching.

"If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides," he explained.  "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."

That, he says, is the enemy's objective: to find new safe havens, new recruits, and new resources in a chaotic Iraq to pursue what Mr. Bush says is an ever greater determination to harm America.

Outside that conflict, the president says he is continuing to work with the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia to bring about a two-state solution to Israeli/Palestinian violence.

Mr. Bush says NATO is taking the lead in turning back the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. He says he is working with regional allies to achieve a nuclear free Korean Peninsula.

The president says America will continue to speak out for freedom in Cuba, Belarus, and Burma and will work to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Sudan's troubled Darfur region.

He also called on Congress to keep funding programs to fight hunger, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and malaria, saying American foreign policy is more than a matter of war and diplomacy.