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 Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 05:28 GMT
Girding the public for war

President George W Bush has laid out the moral case for a war against Iraq in one of the most powerful speeches he has ever given.

His aim in the State of the Union speech was to remove doubts in the eyes of the American people about the evil nature of the Iraqi regime and spell out the exact nature of the threat that it poses.

Colin Powell
Powell will present evidence to the UN
By repeatedly giving details of the weapons of mass destruction that Iraq possessed, and the nature of the regime, he was confronting head-on the issue of evidence that has been continually raised in the debate so far - although without presenting any new facts.

These may come when the US lays out its full case against Iraq before the Security Council, with officials hinting that new intelligence data will be released.

Moral high ground

More importantly, the president was also aiming at recapturing the moral high ground, with his assertion that "if this is not evil, then evil has no meaning".

President Bush's speech at times had the fervour of a religious sermon.

"If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means," he said.

A UN weapons inspectors vehicle enters Ibn al-Haitham manufacturing facility for missile components past a mural of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Baghdad
The weapons inspectors say there has not been full co-operation
Mr Bush was also preparing the nation - and the armed forces - for war, outlining his role as commander-in-chief and his reluctance to send men and women into battle unless it was absolutely necessary.

In recent days, the Democrats have rediscovered their voice of opposition by attacking the president for his tax plan and rush to war.

The president's speech will have silenced some of the critics, but not all of them.

And the Democrats' response will depend in large part how the opinion polls judge the speech.

Appeal to the nation

Mr Bush was also prepared to appeal to the country on the domestic front, arguing that the nation should face its problems at home with the same moral fervour that it tackled its enemies abroad.

And Mr Bush was nothing if not adroit in stealing some of the Democrats' clothing, pledging new initiatives on everything from health care to hydrogen-powered cars to help the environment.

Whether or not his proposals pass scrutiny - and whether they are affordable - he has put forward a vision of quiet determination that may well capture the imagination of the American people.


President Bush's speech was aimed at that domestic audience, and barely mentioned America's allies, except to say that "we will consult, but let there be no misunderstanding. If Saddam Hussein does not disarm, for the sake of the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him".

However, the process of consulting key allies is now about to begin.

On Thursday the President will receive Italy's Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

On Friday, Mr Bush will hold talks at Camp David in the US with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair about their strategy.

And next week, Colin Powell will try to persuade members of the UN Security Council of the case for action against Iraq.

Mr Bush has made it clear that although he will consult with members of the international community, he will not wait for their judgement before making his decision.

There appears to be little time left to assemble additional members of the coalition of the willing.

  The BBC's Claire Bolderson reports from Washington
"The state of the American nation is also challenged"

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Looming war




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