Alexander's Column

2002 SOTU

Mark Alexander · Feb. 1, 2002

“As we gather tonight, our nation is at war, our economy is in recession, and the civilized world faces unprecedented dangers. Yet the state of our union has never been stronger,” President George W. Bush began in delivering his first State of the Union speech before Congress Tuesday night. Mr. Bush’s speech emphasized the central government’s constitutional role of providing for the common defense – in fighting the war against Jihadistan abroad and protecting the homeland. Mr. Bush concluded his address by saying, “We choose freedom and the dignity of every life. Steadfast in our purpose, we now press on. We have known freedom’s price. We have shown freedom’s power. And in this great conflict, we will see freedom’s victory.”

“It’s a pleasure to watch a State of the Union Address largely devoted to carrying out the federal government’s proper function of providing national defense,” noted Cato Institute Executive Vice President David Boaz. We concur!

The President called for 39 new initiatives in 48 minutes. (This is a welcome change from Bill Clinton, who proposed over 100 new programs in his last long-winded blowhard SOTU.) And while The Federalist has constitutional objections about Mr. Bush’s calls for such programs as a patients’ bill of rights and a “productive farm policy,” we were delighted at the attention the President paid to rebuilding our national security after years of not-so-benign neglect. And we were nearly ecstatic when Mr. Bush identified as a new “axis of evil” the terror-sponsoring, weapons-collecting countries of North Korea, Iran and Iraq. (The next “evil empire” to bring down….)

Asked Wednesday for clarification on the “axis of evil,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld replied, “I think if I were in Iran or North Korea or Iraq and I heard the president of the United States say what he said last night about weapons of mass destruction and about terrorism and about terrorist networks and about nations that harbor terrorists, I don’t think there’d be a lot of ambiguity as to the view he holds of those problems and their behavior. Now, what will they do about that is something we’ll find out. But it ought to be very clear to them that he is – he is calling attention to the risks to the world that that relationship poses.”

Speaking before the National Defense University Thursday, Mr. Rumsfeld detailed the need for simultaneous defense transformation and anti-terror preparations to meet national vulnerabilities to ballistic missile attacks, weaknesses in space assets, possible cyberattacks and attacks on foreign bases for U.S. military personnel: “Our job is to close off as many of those avenues of potential attack as is possible. These attacks could grow vastly more deadly than those we suffered [on Sept. 11].”

And Mr. Rumsfeld further discussed the need for increased defense spending – to fund the war on Jihadistan and speed recovery from the “procurement holiday” that has eroded levels of readiness: “For 2003, the president will seek what he characterized as the largest increase in defense spending since the 1980s. It’s a great deal of money [$48 billion]. It’s the taxpayers’ money. It is not the government’s money, it is the taxes that are paid by people who work in Chicago and Dallas and Portland and Seattle. They’re hard-earned dollars. But compared with the costs in dollars, if one thinks about the cost in dollars and lives of a conflict, there’s no question but that investment before the fact is much cheaper. Seeing that our country has the capability to contribute to peace and stability in the world is the wise and prudent and, in the last analysis, the cheapest way both in dollars and in human treasure.”

And not a moment too soon, we might add! As Mr. Bush remarked in his Tuesday address, our warriors in Afghanistan have discovered several caches of plans to carry out further attacks against the U.S., including diagrams of U.S. nuclear power plants and rough design plans for a nuclear weapon. U.S. intelligence agencies this week issued an internal alert that Islamic terrorists are planning additional major attacks rivaling those of 9-11. Analysts estimate, among known targets, a bombing or airline attack on a nuclear power plant or other U.S. nuclear facility, such as a weapons storage depot, would cause mass casualties and widespread radiological debris.

While air piracy on a U.S. domestic flight would be nearly impossible, and while excessive security measures at U.S. airports does pose a minor obstacle for suicidal terrorists willing to detonate a bomb on an aircraft, there is still plenty of room for air piracy over the U.S. considering that Air Pakistan, Air India and a host of other foreign carriers continue to fly into our airspace! Some nuclear plants in urban areas – those where radiological contamination would be most disastrous – are located in close proximity to airports, effectively negating the ten mile flight restriction dome imposed after 9-11. Hawk missiles can’t remove that threat – or the myriad of others now pending. Engaging Jihadistan on every front possible can.

In other news, reflecting on the State of the Union, it is interesting to consider where Mr. Bush was one year ago, Leftists deriding him on most counts and lukewarm support from some conservative circles. Since then, he has gained the confidence of the American people and for a major reason we identified a year ago – character – he has it and in stark contrast to the former White House occupant. The war against Jihadistan allowed the nation to see that George W. Bush was, indeed, a leader.

We noted three weeks prior to Mr. Bush’s inauguration: “It is the opinion of the majority of The Federalist Editorial Board that…Leftists and conservatives alike are significantly underestimating Mr. Bush’s ability to breathe new life into the conservative agenda. … Mr. Bush will be doing much more than installing new administration faces after January 20th. He will be restoring a few things that have been painfully absent from the presidency for eight long years – most notably, honor and common decency.”

We added, “However, rest assured our editors intend to review Mr. Bush’s performance – and that of his cabinet – with the same conservative scrutiny applied to Clinton-Gore for their tenure in the White House….” And we will certainly keep standing watch on the conservative ramparts!

One objection The Federalist lodged early on with the new president was his “house divided” strategy of tapping cabinet members like Left-leaning Colin Powell as Secretary of State against the solid right-thinkers like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And to that end, a dustup this week about Bush administration internal disagreements about the status of the al Qaeda and Taliban detainees illustrated these pitfalls.

A memo from White House Counsel Al Gonzales informed Mr. Bush that Powell disagreed with the President’s earlier decision denying the detainees prisoner of war status under Geneva Convention definitions: “The Secretary of State has requested that you reconsider that decision.” After a visit to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Donald Rumsfeld rebutted, “They are not POWs. They will not be determined to be POWs.” Mr. Bush cleared up the squabble, rejecting Powell’s request: “These are killers; these are terrorists,” the President said. “They’re illegal combatants.”

But regarding President Bush’s conservative credentials, as Chairman of the American Conservative Union David Keene said at the opening of the group’s 29th annual Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, “Most people believe that George W. Bush is a conservative. Most people support him in large part for that reason and the largest group of Americans that identify themselves politically and ideologically refer to themselves as conservatives, too.”