February 03, 2005

State of the Union: Inaugural Address Given Focus

Bush gave a pretty cool State of the Union. I would've liked some parts dumped and some parts expanded, but overall I enjoyed it. I also find that his speaking style, which used to be halting and difficult to enjoy, has improved greatly. I don't recall him making any real slip-ups, but more relevantly his pace was rather comfortable.

Significantly, he has followed up his inaugural address' call for a grand American and global mission on behalf of freedom's march around the world. To meet the high-minded idealism of that speech, he tonight named specific allies as authoritarian countries needing democratic overhaul: Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom. Hopeful reform is already taking hold in an arc from Morocco to Jordan to Bahrain. The government of Saudi Arabia can demonstrate its leadership in the region by expanding the role of its people in determining their future. And the great and proud nation of Egypt, which showed the way toward peace in the Middle East, can now show the way toward democracy in the Middle East.

Freedom House ranked Egypt 6 on a scale 1 to 7 (1 being best) in both political rights and civil liberties. Saudi Arabia rated a 7 in both. These are two quite unfree countries, Saudi Arabia especially so.

They have some prospects for becoming successful volumtary-reform scenarios - both have relatively educated populaces, good opportunities for further economic growth, governments politically reliant on US diplomatic support, sizable populations (25 mil in SA, 76 mil in Egypt), and of course competitive urges with Iraq. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iraq each want to be the core state of the Muslim and Arab worlds. Each has a good population base, average to excellent economic prospects and held a former Caliph's capital city. If Iraq goes the way of democratic values, it could become the prime Muslim and Arab state, a leader and inspiration for the elites, the education and the businesses in the area. It would be sacrificing the edge.

While there's no trophy for first place, there is a great deal of interplay and political struggle inside the Muslim world. There is influence to be won, both internationally and regionally. If Iraqi democracy is seen as a step into the future, as progress, then it could help spur similar progress from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and then others.

I hope Bush starts having some private discussions with the Saudi royals and with Mubarak, so that he can get an idea of how much compliance he can expect here. Hopefully it will be forthcoming.

Also, he damn well better do personal accounts. It's not much, but I want to own my own retirement money and have my assets follow me. I wish they would allow a higher investment limit and not restrict how much we can withdraw. It's going to be bankrupt by the time I retire. If it goes on this way the age limit will be well over 70 and the benefits will be cut to boot.

I was also disappointed because Bush - typically - didn't even mention abortion directly with his 'culture of life' bit. We got third or fourth degree hinting, but not even a veiled comment - just veils behind veils. You know, a million-plus deaths every year and you'd hope it would rate a comment from the supposedly pro-life, supposedly religious-conservative President. At least an "it's regrettable" comment. He's very politically savvy about that, he's using his capital on issues he thinks are winners. Abortion, he seems sure, can't change right now and so he shouldn't change it. I agree there would be a bitter fight, but then slavery took our worst war to be eliminated.

If Bush nominates a pro-life Justice who overturns Roe, I think I'll forgive his lack of comment now (or chalk it up to shrewd strategy, which is probably more accurate anyway).