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Beyond the State of the Union

Author: Eben Kaplan
January 30, 2006

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A year ago, President Bush stood in front of the U.S. Capitol, took his oath of office, and pledged in his second term to "seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation...with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny." The past year has seen a flurry of democratic activity in the Middle East (Economist), but, as the Washington Post explains, the president's campaign has yielded mixed results. The Iraq war, in particular, has hurt the president's popularity in spite of gains for democracy there. Increasingly, says CFR Fellow James Lindsay, the outcome of the war looks to be the litmus test of the Bush presidency.

This year's speech, then, is likely to see the president attempt to retake the initiative (FT) on issues domestic and foreign. As these CFR Background Q&As note, gains for democracy have been made in Lebanon, in Ukraine, in Iraq, and elsewhere. But do those gains further U.S. interests? Hamas and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, which polled well in the Palestinian and Egyptian votes, are "not exactly roses in Bush's garden of Arab democracies," Newsweek notes. The Hamas victory highlights the debate over making the export of democracy a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. Foreign Policy magazine has called the idea one of the world's most dangerous ideas, and a CFR Task Force Report examined the complexities sometimes lost in rhetorical calls for democracy in the Arab world.

The most closely watched democracy-promotion efforts are taking place in Iraq, a subject Bush will be forced to address in his speech. Despite waning domestic support for the war and new reports suggesting the military is too worn down, the president is likely to call for resolve. He is apt to paint a positive picture of the December elections and express high hopes for the formation of a new Iraqi government, which Shibley Telhami recently discussed with cfr.org's Bernard Gwertzman. Other progress includes a recent Pentagon directive giving greater attention to the kind of "stability operations" being conducted in Iraq; this sort of change was called for in a CFR Task Force Report on post-conflict capabilities.

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy previews some other policy issues that may arise in 2006, while the Washington Post reports that Bush is looking at a plan to increase the use of civilian nuclear energy. The New York Times profiles William McGurn, the former Wall Street Journal editorialist leading the effort to write the speech.

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