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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 13:28 GMT
Bush in a lighter shade of green
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

President Bush's State of the Union speech might well be remembered for his phrase that "America is addicted to oil".

President Bush on TV in Tokyo shop window
Bush speech on TV in Tokyo: is world climate change his issue?

The rest of it, apart perhaps from a call on Iranians to get rid of their "small clerical elite", was a reiteration of the themes on which his presidency stands or falls.

He gave not an inch on Iraq nor on his intention to "act boldly in freedom's cause" (nor on his wiretapping without warrants).

One would expect that. They are the bedrock of his policy.

On all those policies, especially the foreign ones, he was defiant if at times somewhat defensive. His rallying call on Iraq, for example, was to say: "Fellow citizens, we are in this fight to win and we are winning." This, three years after war was first waged.

Oil addiction

His section on energy indicates that he is having to respond to the green lobby, which has been growing fast at a local and state level in the United States. (Update: one reader also suggests that he might be reacting to higher energy prices).

His answer, as it has been from the start of this whole debate in fact, is to rely on science.

"The best way to break this addiction is through technology," he said.

He proposed to spend more on clean energy research - on zero-emission coal fired stations, ethanol fuel from such things as "wood chips and stalk, or switch grass", "revolutionary solar and wind technologies" and, importantly in view of the worldwide debate on this, "clean, safe nuclear energy."

It is worth noting, however, that he put energy in its place. He mentioned the need to detox from oil only as the sixth on a list of seven measures the United States had to take to stay "competitive."

The preceding five were "keeping our economy growing", being "good stewards of tax dollars", opening "more markets for all that Americans make and grow", sorting out an "immigration system" and providing "affordable health care".

The seventh was a plan to improve science and technology education.

Climate change not the motive

And he did not mention climate change as the overriding concern behind energy policies.

George Bush is not going to make the same mistake that Jimmy Carter made

Those words, like the bark of the dog in the night in the Sherlock Holmes story of the stolen racehorse, are not in the speech.

Nor are the words "greenhouse gases." The nearest he came to a climate reference was when he outlined one benefit of cleaner energy.

"This country can dramatically improve our environment," he declared.

So the benefit is for the US not necessarily the world, though the world, of course, would also benefit.

And the breaking of the oil addiction was also seen a foreign policy goal.

He proposed replacing "more than 75% of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025", making "our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past." Applause followed.

The goal is not quite as ambitious as it might sound. These days the US gets more oil and petroleum products from Venezuela, Mexico and Canada than it does from the Middle East.

The Jimmy Carter experience

Mr Bush does not like targets and in this he might well have been mindful of the disastrous speech on energy made by President Jimmy Carter back in 1979.

At the time, Mr Carter was, like Mr Bush, rather down in the polls.

On returning from a trip abroad, he went up to Camp David, the president's retreat in the Catoctin Mountains north of Washington, and did not come down for a week.

Instead, a whole series of leaders from across the field of American endeavour went up the mountain to see him.

He then came down and announced in a gloomy speech that America was in a crisis.

He identified that as an energy crisis and declared: "Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation."

He set all kinds of hopelessly unrealistic targets (not importing more oil than in 1979 for one; generating 20% of power from solar energy by 2000 for another) to reduce American dependence on oil.

Of course this all simply boomeranged on Mr Carter. Americans did not like to be told it was all their fault and at the time did not like being told to tighten their belts.

It wasn't that hard for Ronald Reagan to come along and give them their confidence back.

George Bush is not going to make the same mistake that Jimmy Carter made.

If he has gone green, it is perhaps a lighter shade of green.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


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