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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 February 2005, 08:05 GMT
Bush's second-term 'call to arms'

By James Coomarasamy
BBC News, Washington

The first paragraph of US President George W Bush's first State of the Union address of his second term set the tone with a sense of confidence buoyed by elections in Iraq.

President Bush
The president knows he has a tough battle ahead

It further developed the idealistic vision that he set out in his inaugural address two weeks ago with continued calls for dramatic change in the Middle East and a commitment to re-engage with the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

And he laid out ambitious domestic plans including his call for reforms to Social Security, the public pension scheme.

But his foreign policy ambitions will be limited by progress in Iraq and his ambitious plans at home will be limited by the mounting US debt.

Tough battles ahead

As expected, he spent a great deal of time outlining the problems with Social Security and talking about his proposals to save the system.

But his figures were met with groans from his Democratic opponents in a rare departure from the deference usually afforded presidents during their State of the Union addresses.

President Bush and Dick Cheney
Mr Bush sought to shore up support from the conservative base

This is a president who had a very easy ride in Congress during his first term.

Partly because of the 9/11 factor, he was able to get things passed through Congress that he would never have been able to normally.

He has identified Social Security as a priority. The talk in Washington is that he wants Congress to take action on reform quickly - within the next five or six months.

But despite his confident delivery, he knows he has a tough battle. He begins a five-state campaign on Thursday to sell his plan.

And in his speech, he worked to shore up his support with conservative Evangelical Christians, who take a great deal of credit for his re-election.

The Arlington Group, comprised of leading conservative Evangelical leaders, has threatened to withhold their support for Mr Bush's Social Security plans if he does not vigorously pursue a ban on same-sex marriage.

Mr Bush did call for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage from "activist" judges.

That is a box he had to tick, but it will be down to a question of rhetoric and reality.

By the brevity of the mention, he did not sound entirely confident that he would be able to push anything through Congress.

And of his other domestic initiatives, he will be limited by the burgeoning US deficit, especially in light of his renewed promise to cut it in half by 2009.

Freedom and foreign policy

President Bush's State of the Union speech restated the central theme of his inaugural address that the US should commit itself to the spread of freedom around the world.

"The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom," Mr Bush said.

Some elements were expected.

He continued with tough talk about Iran.

"Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror - pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve," Mr Bush said.

Iraqi activist and US marine in Congress audience
The president acknowledged deaths in Iraq

But despite his strong rhetoric, this speech indicated that he very much wanted to keep his options open.

He spoke of working with the Europeans to convince Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment programme and its sponsorship of terror.

But he also said with his eyes looking straight at the camera: "As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you."

Other elements of his speech were unexpected.

Mr Bush spoke with much stronger conviction about the Palestinian-Israeli peace process with a call on Congress to commit $350m for Palestinian political, economic and security reforms.

And he said: "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."

Thinking big

But one of the moments that many will take away was of a mother whose son was killed in Iraq emotionally embracing an Iraqi human-rights campaigner.

Janet Norwood's marine son, Sgt Byron Norwood, was killed in the assault on Falluja, and Mr Bush acknowledged her and in doing so, publicly acknowledged that troops are dying in Iraq.

Mr Bush ran with the themes that he laid out in his inauguration. He is a man who thinks big and takes big risks.

And as his second term begins, he knows that he has only a short time to spend the political capital he thinks he earned in his re-election.

Tonight was a call to action for Mr Bush's Republican allies in Congress. For his opposition, it was a call to arms.

Highlights of President Bush's address

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