In his fourth State of the Union since the Iraq invasion and the first since Democrats won control of both houses of Congress, President Bush urged support for his plan to escalate the Iraq War.
President Bush: “This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we’re in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. Ladies and gentlemen, on this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. Let us find our resolve and turn events toward victory.”
The president’s plea comes as the Senate Foreign Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve a measure today opposing the troop increase in Iraq.
President Bush also called for setting new targets on gasoline consumption.
President Bush: “Let us build on the work we have done and reduce gasoline usage in the United States by 20 percent in the next 10 years, thereby cutting our total imports by the equivalent of three-quarters of all the oil we now import from the Middle East.”
The 20 percent reduction would apply to projected gas usage over the next decade — not the amount consumed today. In a notable omission, President Bush did not once mention ongoing recovery efforts in the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina.
Meanwhile, dozens of protesters gathered outside Congress to denounce the Iraq War.
Protester Adam Eidinger: “I think the president has committed war crimes. I think the war in Iraq is illegal. I believe that he has lied to the American public about the cause for the war. I think there has not been a thorough investigation into that. I think the new Congress has an obligation to the American public after this election to hold this president accountable and to discourage this kind of gross violation of the Constitution and human rights in other parts of the world by future presidents.”
President Bush delivered his speech amidst record opposition to his presidency. A CBS News poll shows President Bush’s overall approval rating has fallen to a new low of 28 percent. More than double that number — 64 percent — disapprove of the job he’s doing. Two-thirds of Americans remain opposed to Bush’s plan to send 21,000 more troops to Iraq, and 72 percent say he should seek congressional approval. We’ll spend the hour getting reaction to the State of the Union after headlines.
Earlier on Capitol Hill Tuesday, President Bush’s nominee to head the Iraq War — Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus — testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Lt. Gen. Petraeus painted a bleak picture of the situation in Iraq but said it could be improved by sending more troops.
Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus: “The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard. Progress will require determination and difficult U.S. and Iraqi actions, especially the latter as ultimately the outcome will be determined by the Iraqis. But hard is not hopeless.”
Petraeus was briefly interrupted when peace activist and retired Army Colonel Ann Wright got up in the chamber and called for a withdrawal of U.S. troops.
In news from Iraq, five American contractors were killed Tuesday when their helicopter was shot down over Baghdad. The contractors all worked for the private security firm Blackwater USA. Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the deaths of three U.S. troops, bringing this past weekend’s servicemember death toll to 29.
In Somalia, the U.S. military says it has carried out an airstrike against suspected al-Qaeda targets for the second time this month. No details have been released. U.S. officials have admitted the first attack failed to hit its intended target and may have killed up to 20 people.
In Lebanon, the Hezbollah-led opposition has called off a general strike one day after clashes left six people dead and more than 100 injured. It was the worst outbreak of violence since Hezbollah launched protests against the Lebanese government two months ago.
In Turkey, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Istanbul Tuesday for the funeral of the Turkish Armenian editor Hrant Dink. Dink was slain Friday in what many believe was a political killing for his efforts to challenge Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide. Meanwhile in Armenia, thousands more turned out for a memorial in the capital Yerevan.
In Israel, a military judge has ordered the release of a prominent Muslim leader deported from the United States. Fawaz Damra is the former imam at Ohio’s largest mosque. He was arrested in 2004 on charges of concealing ties to the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad. He agreed to deportation last year rather than face new terror charges. Israeli authorities immediately detained Damra after his deportation to the West Bank earlier this month. In ordering Damra’s release, the Israeli military judge said there is insufficient evidence to hold him any longer.
Back in the United States, police in Los Angeles say they’ve carried out one of the biggest immigration sweeps in U.S. history. At least 750 undocumented residents have been arrested in the raids. More than half have already been deported.
Two prisoners in separate cases are both newly freed men today after DNA tests cleared them of their convictions. In Georgia, Willie “Pete” Williams was set free Tuesday after DNA evidence overturned a rape conviction that had jailed him for nearly 22 years. His release came just hours after another convict, Roy Brown, was released here in New York state. Brown was sent to jail 15 years ago following his conviction for rape and murder. He was exonerated mostly due to his own efforts. Working from his jail cell, Brown gathered evidence to accuse the brother of the victim’s boyfriend of the crime. When the man committed suicide, testing later proved his DNA was on the victim’s shirt the night she was killed. The Innocence Project says DNA testing has now exonerated nearly 200 people across the nation.
In news from Washington, lawyers for Lewis “Scooter” Libby unveiled their apparent defense strategy Tuesday during opening remarks at his perjury and obstruction trial. Libby is the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. He is accused of lying to investigators and a grand jury during the investigation of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. On Tuesday, Libby attorney Theodore Wells Jr. said Libby was used as a scapegoat in order to protect top presidential aide Karl Rove. Wells said: “Karl Rove was the person most responsible that the Republican Party stayed in office. … He had to be protected. The person who was to be sacrificed, that’s Scooter Libby.”
In media news, the Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corporation has entered the race for control of Tribune Company. According to Financial Times, Murdoch has joined the bid launched by the Chandler family, who owns a 20 percent stake in Tribune. Sources close to the deal say Murdoch has entered the bid to seek control over the Tribune-owned Long Island newspaper Newsday. Media ownership rules would prevent News Corp. from a full takeover. Tribune also owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune.
And a former New York police officer died Tuesday just hours before his son attended the State of the Union to bring attention to the plight of 9/11 workers. The officer, Cesar Borja, died awaiting a lung transplant. His son, Cesar Borja Jr., was among several people who attended the State of the Union to call for government-funded healthcare for workers made sick by the toxic air at Ground Zero. Earlier in the day, Borja called his ailing father “a symbol of those in need, in desperation.”