by RAY FLEMING
GEORGE W Bush cuts a dignified figure when delivering a major policy speech and he has transformed himself into an effective orator.
His State of the Union address to Congress in Washington on Tuesday can certainly be described in those terms. Yet, essentially, it was a political speech, timed to distract attention from the Democratic primaries taking place at the moment, and delivering an appeal to the American public to avoid rocking the ship of state by changing the skipper in November. The latest opinion polls suggest that Americans are far from persuaded that the President deserves a vote of confidence on his domestic policies and remain uncertain about the correctness of his foreign policy, especially in relation to Iraq.

It is two years since Tony Blair attended the State of the Union address and was praised by Mr Bush for his support over 9/11. Last year the UK connection was in these words delivered by the President: “The British government has learnt that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” - a claim later found to have been false. Mr Bush also spoke last year about “a serious and mounting threat to our country posed by Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons”.

This year Mr Bush did not spend much time on Iraq and what he did say was defensive: “Some in this country, and in other countries, did not support the liberation of Iraq. Objections to war often come from principled motives. But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. If we had not acted, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction-related programme activities would continue to this day.” That is a pale shadow of what we were threatened with only one year ago by President Bush.

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