State of the Union: Abroad

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Last night George W. Bush delivered his fifth State of the Union address. On foreign policy and the war on terrorism, he took much the same tack he has in the past. He made the same strong case for his policy on Iraq that he has been making since his Veterans Day speech November 11. He talked of the need to promote freedom and democracy, as he did in his second inaugural speech a year ago. I found what he had to say on Iran particularly interesting:

Yet liberty is the future of every nation in the Middle East, because liberty is the right and hope of all humanity. (Applause.)

The same is true of Iran, a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people. The regime in that country sponsors terrorists in the Palestinian territories and in Lebanon--and that must come to an end. (Applause.) The Iranian government is defying the world with its nuclear ambitions, and the nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons. (Applause.) America will continue to rally the world to confront these threats.

Tonight, let me speak directly to the citizens of Iran: America respects you, and we respect your country. We respect your right to choose your own future and win your own freedom. And our nation hopes one day to be the closest of friends with a free and democratic Iran. (Applause.)

Earlier this week, China and Russia agreed that Iran's defiance of the IAEAInternational Atomic Energy Agency should be referred to the United Nations Security Council. That's a success for administration policy, though it's not clear what the Security Council will or can do to get Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. But Bush made a point of distinguishing between Iran's rulers and Iran's people. We know that the mullahs are widely unpopular in Iran, and we know that they listen to the president's words carefully. I think those last three sentences will have a powerful effect.