State of the union addresses are an integral part of American presidential tenures. They give an opportunity to one who is unarguably the most powerful executive authority in the world to unfold his agenda for the year, and reflect on developments over the last twelve months. Attention is paid to the speech by political constituents in the United States of America, while the American president’s thoughts also generate interest across the globe. Mr George W. Bush’s latest state of the union address was predictable in its emphasis. There was a considerable focus on domestic issues, but it is his comments on the “axis of evil”, Iran, North Korea and especially Iraq, that have invited widespread attention. Domestically, Mr Bush’s concerns were focussed on the economy, healthcare and social security. In each one of the three areas, he unveiled plans, many of which will invite some controversy and considerable debate. Tax cuts formed the centrepiece of his agenda to boost the American economy. Investors were promised tax relief, and there were proposals for widespread tax cuts in other areas. Although there was an emphasis on improving health care and the environment, it is not clear how these can be improved without increased public investment and with such dramatic tax cuts.
Predictably, there was a renewed emphasis on the war against terrorism, and the president revealed that he had instructed the leaders of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Homeland Security, and the department of defence to develop a Terrorist Threat Integration Center, to merge and analyse all threat information in a single location. But it was Mr Bush’s claim that the gravest danger in the war on terror, the gravest danger facing the US and the world, are rogue regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that seemed to set the stage for the war against Iraq. The president was explicit. He described Iraq’s president, Mr Saddam Hussein, as a brutal dictator, with a history of reckless aggression, with ties to terrorism, with great potential wealth, who would not be permitted to dominate a vital region and threaten the US.
More significantly, he asserted that the United Nations security council had given Mr Hussein his final chance to disarm, and he had, instead, shown utter contempt for the UN. And there was a clear signal that the US may act unilaterally, if the security council does not back the US. Mr Bush’s state of the union address was the most serious indication that there could be an American military attack against Iraq within weeks. As the rest of the world reflects on those words, it is important for New Delhi too to carve out a pragmatic policy in case of war in the Persian Gulf. India’s national interest, rather than outdated principles, should be the guiding factor in carving out a nuanced strategy.