Out of about 5,000 words, US President George W. Bush devoted a mere 1,500 to Iraq in his January 23 State of the Union address, despite the widespread and spreading disillusionment over the war the US has been waging in that country since 2003.

Initially supportive of the war, most Americans now disapprove of their government’s actions, including Bush’s recent decision to send an additional 20,000 troops into that country. (Not because of the 100,000 civilian deaths among the Iraqis, or the near-total destruction of Iraq, but mostly because 3,000 US soldiers have died there.)

The war’s growing unpopularity helped lead to the Democratic Party’s regaining control of Congress for the first time in 12 years, which in fact Bush acknowledged last Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) after addressing and congratulating the first woman Speaker of the US House of Representatives during his speech.

Apparently in the hope of blunting public indignation over his Iraq plans, Bush focused on domestic issues, most specially on reducing US energy dependence on foreign sources–a theme Bush has harped on since 2002.

In his first State of the Union speech since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on US targets, Bush declared the need for the US Congress “to act to encourage conservation, promote technology, build infrastructure, and… increase energy production at home so America (will be) less dependent on foreign oil.”

He said the same thing in 2003, adding something about “improving” and “protecting” the environment, which no one really believed he meant given his past record and his links to the oil companies. ( “Our third goal is to promote energy independence for our country, while dramatically improving the environment. … Even more, I ask you to take a crucial step and protect our environment in ways that generations before us could not have imagined.”)

He repeated the message in 2004, 2005 and 2006, except that last year he described the US as “addicted to oil.”

The Republican controlled Congress apparently hadn’t been paying much attention–or knew that it was all Bush rhetoric. As of the last quarter of 2006, US dependence on foreign sources of oil had actually risen to 70 percent compared to 58 percent in 2000 when Bush was first elected President of the United States. US dependence on the Organization of Petroleum-Exporting Countries (OPEC) is in fact the highest it has ever been in 15 years.

Conclusion: just like a certain Filipino politician, Bush will say anything he thinks citizens want to hear while doing exactly the opposite of what they want, which at this time is to find some way to pull out of Iraq. The Democrats thus pretty much ignored Bush’s domestic focus in his State of the Union speech, accused him of recklessly leading the US into the war, and called for a withdrawal of US forces.

Speaking for the Democratic Party, Senator James Webb described the war as “mismanaged,” and declared that the majority of Americans “no longer supports the way this war is being fought–nor does the majority of our military. We need a new direction.”

The need for “a new direction” has been the Democrats’ mantra since it became obvious last year that the war in Iraq has practically become another Vietnam in unpopularity, given its costs in terms of US treasure and lives lost and the war’s spiraling out of control. An electorate disillusioned not only with the costs of war but also with the Bush administration’s incompetence was thus likely to trounce the Republicans in last November’s elections– and that was exactly what happened.

Most of the Democrats, however, had supported the 2003 invasion despite the absence of a UN sanction, the unproven claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was coddling Al Qaeda, and predictions that while Saddam Hussein could be easily overthrown, the aftermath would be chaos and civil war.

They’re now saying “I told you so”–without mentioning, however, that they were in the same Congress that in 2003 gave Bush the blank check on Iraq that has led the US to the present quagmire, over a hundred thousand civilian deaths, and the destruction of what used to be one of the most modern states in the Middle East.

Bush’s argument is that the US cannot pull out of Iraq now without risking the widening of the sectarian violence now ravaging Iraq to include much of the Middle East. It was of course the US that created the chaos in the first place by invading Iraq–first on the argument that Saddam Hussein was an immediate threat to the US, and later, when that argument foundered on contrary evidence, that the US had a duty to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule. (Saddam was a tyrant, but so was Ferdinand Marcos. Removing tyrants is for their respective peoples to decide, as Filipinos did in 1986.)

Having created the chaos, the Bush logic dictates that the US has the responsibility to address it–through the very same military means that in the first place set into motion the present chaos in Iraq. On the other hand, the Democrats would withdraw from Iraq and leave Iraqis to clean up the mess the US made. It’s like being caught between Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee.

No wonder a British Broadcasting Corporation survey found that the most people all over the world see the US as a negative force internationally, with 73 percent of those polled expressing disapproval of US policy in Iraq, and 68 percent believing that US military presence in the Middle East provokes further conflict. US voters may think they have a choice between the Republicans and the Democrats. The rest of the world is beginning to learn that it doesn’t.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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