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Wednesday, 30 January, 2002, 20:23 GMT
State of the Union Address: Ask the BBC's Stephen Sackur
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On 29 January, US President George W Bush gave his first State of the Union address, warning that the war on terror was only just beginning.
President Bush wants to allocate an extra $48bn to fight the war against terror, fund missile defences, pay for precision weaponry, and boost the pay of members of the armed services.
He is also planning to almost double the amount America spends on "homeland security", providing increases to areas such as the police and fire services - and the intelligence effort.
In the light of the US recession, do you think President Bush should raise defence spending?
Former BBC Washington correspondent Paul Reynolds put your questions to BBC Washington correspondent Stephen Sackur in a forum on 30 January.
But September 11th changed everything. He now has unprecedented popular approval ratings. He's in the 80% range - perhaps even higher and has sustained that sort of level of popularity ever since September 11th, making him perhaps the most popular president in modern American history. There is no doubt that is entirely connected to his conduct of the war - the way he has carried himself in the last five months under terrific pressure.
The Americans like what they've seen of this President under pressure. Clearly the war in Afghanistan has gone well - the Taleban regime has been completely destroyed and removed. The Americans on the whole believe that the al-Qaeda terror network has been severely disrupted even though Osama bin Laden has not yet been captured or killed. So if you add all of that together, there is no doubt that George Bush has enjoyed a massive boost to his standing here in the United States because of what happened on September 11th and his decision to conduct this war against global terrorism.
Other issues being sidelined?
It was significant that he described this axis of evil - and he named three states in particular; North Korea, Iran and most particularly Iraq, which he says are actively developing weapons of mass destruction and which must be confronted by the United States and its allies. So this is no small business for George Bush. He takes this existential threat seriously and clearly he is massively boosting the defence budget - the biggest spending increase in military affairs for the last two decades - we are talking about perhaps 50 billion new dollars for the military.
The questioner is right in that there was barely a mention of many environmental and social issues but I think that's because priorities lie elsewhere. I think you have to see this as more a State of the Union speech from a commander-in-chief than a peacetime President. This was very much a speech made during what is perceived, by this administration, to be a war.
Future military targets
Certainly on Iraq, while there's much talk here in Washington, particularly amongst the so-called "hawks" inside the administration, many of them in the defence department, about confronting Iraq soon and doing it with real military force. This would be with not just pinprick strikes but actually undertaking military action, including use of ground forces that would remove Saddam Hussein's regime from power.
While all of that is fine talk, but it's hard to see, at the moment, an American willingness to undertake that kind of massive military operation. It would be costly in every sense of that word and there is no evidence that there is a meaningful Iraqi opposition that the Americans can rely on in the short term, as they relied on the Northern Alliance. That is a big problem here because many people, although they want to believe that the Iraqi National Congress is the kind of opposition they could work with to bring down Saddam Hussein, there are real doubts about whether that group is sufficiently reliable and sufficiently strong.
American policy in the Middle East
The Americans don't see it that way. They believe that being dragged into a debate about Middle East policy would be very dangerous. It would, in a sense, be a form of moral equivalence - allowing the terrorists some sort of a victory. So they're not going to engage in that kind of a debate. George Bush only mentioned the Middle East in passing simply to condemn groups like Hammas - the Palestinian Islamic militant group - and Hezbollah, who he called terrorist groups that must be eradicated.
So that's where the Americans stand. At the moment they are focused entirely on what they call this war on terrorism. They are not prepared to reconsider in any way their Middle East policy and you can absolutely guarantee that there will be no shift in their fundamental strategic alliance with Israel.
Human rights in Camp X-Ray
There is now a debate in the administration - what George Bush refers to as legalisms, but they are actually rather important - about whether the Geneva Convention applies to these prisoners. There is no debate about them being prisoners of war - nobody in the administration believes that that's what they should be called - they are described as unlawful combatants. But even unlawful combatants, many argue, should be covered by the Geneva Convention. So it has become difficult and while George Bush says that this war is all about defending basic human dignity, human rights, freedom and democracy, it does become a little sensitive when one looks at the way the Americans have conducted this treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and I don't think we've heard the last of that story. It may be legalistic but in the end it does matter as to how these people are defined and the US Government is still working on it.
Reactions from Iran and Iraq
As regards Iraq - we know that George Bush wants to see the end of Saddam Hussein, he's made no secret about it - the question is how to do it and that's where it gets very difficult for the Americans.
Many people believe that constitutional issues have been brought up by the way the Bush team has handled for example the mass arrest of young Arab Americans in a sort of acknowledged racial profiling to try and find contacts to terrorists inside the US. Many people are saying that saying that constitutional rights have been invaded. But the Bush team says it's careful not to do that and in the end the first priority has to be protecting the citizens of this country and doing it by pushing the envelope but not, in their view, undermining the constitution.
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