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To: President Bush, Karl Rove
From: Robert O. Boorstin
Re: State of the Union

Robert O. Boorstin
Robert O. Boorstin

As you spend these last hours considering your speech tonight, we recommend that you make a sharp turn in your approach. Specifically, we think that you should shoot straight with the American people about the course of our national security policy over the past year and the tough realities that lie ahead in 2004. While we recognize this move would change the tenor of the State of the Union – and could draw media attention – we believe that this abrupt shift will take your political opponents by surprise and position you as the honest candidate as we head for the fall election.

Some suggested language:

On direction.

"I come before you tonight with a sober message: while we know that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein, we have lost focus over the past year in the real fight to stop terrorists and to prevent unstable nations from obtaining nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Like you, I was taken aback by Secretary Rumsfeld’s memo of last October in which he wondered, 'Does the US need to fashion a broad, integrated plan to stop the next generation of terrorists?' and have ordered a thorough review of our anti-terrorism strategy.

"This year we are going to focus on the truly outstanding threat to the American people. We will redouble our efforts to track down Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda elements and members of their silent army, no matter where they are hiding. [Pause for applause.] I will leave later this week on a trip to Europe to talk to our NATO allies about how we crack down on the personnel, weaponry and the money that fuels them. I am committed to building bridges with those who disagreed with our policy in Iraq. For I believe that there are some threats that no nation, regardless of its power and influence, can face on its own."

On Iraq.

"The year ahead will be pivotal in Iraq. Our men and women in uniform have performed courageously under extraordinarily difficult circumstances – and we have a responsibility to do better by them and their families. We also have a responsibility to the Iraqi people – to help them find their own way to a democratic future of their own making.

"None of this will be easy. And as your President, I owe you the truth about this situation.

"Last year, I came before this Congress and told you that – and I quote – 'The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.' In subsequent months, we have learned that this report was not true. In fact, the White House ignored warnings from the CIA about this information and dismissed the findings of our special envoy who was dispatched to investigate these allegations. And tonight I want to recognize his wife [point to gallery] – she’s sitting there next to Laura – and I apologize to her. No public servant who has given her life to defending America should be attacked by any White House for political reasons – and I pledge tonight that we will find and prosecute the person responsible. [Pause for Democratic applause.]

"There were many reasons that we went to war in Iraq – and I am proud to report that, thanks to our brave troops, Saddam Hussein will never threaten his people again. [Pause for extended applause.] But I want the American people to know that, on one important count, we misled you. In fact, Saddam Hussein did not have the capability to produce, much less use, weapons of mass destruction. Reports both from our own search teams and independent experts have concluded that he was not an imminent threat to the United States.

"I do not regret for one moment what we have done in Iraq: Saddam Hussein was a terrible tyrant who tortured his people and had the potential to destabilize an entire region. And now that we are in Iraq I pledge to the Iraqi people we will meet our responsibilities. We have cause for optimism, of course, but there is also much uncertainty.

"Of one thing I am certain. Before this year is out, I will send to this Congress another supplemental request to fund our reconstruction activities in Iraq. Experts in the Office of Management and Budget estimate that we’ll be asking for at least $50 billion more – and while our Counsel’s office says I am under no legal obligation to inform Congress today, I tell you this tonight, and not on November 3.

"Tonight as I stand here, I regret to report that more Americans have died in the months since I proclaimed an end to major combat operations than during the invasion itself. And the mission has not yet been accomplished. And to make very clear that I understand the sacrifice our military families are making and to allow a grateful nation to grieve, I have reversed my order that prohibits the news media from covering the arrival of our war dead as they return home to American soil."

On Afghanistan.

"Much, if not all, of the media attention in the past year has been focused on Iraq, but we must not lose sight of the first battleground in the war on terrorism: Afghanistan. We have seen hopeful signs there of late: a new constitution that enshrines democracy and advances women’s rights; an expanded role for NATO troops; and the construction of a major highway to help link the country together.

"But the situation is precarious. Security has declined, particularly on the border with Pakistan, and the power of warlords in the provinces has increased. The Taliban are regrouping. Reconstruction has been hampered. Opium is once again becoming Afghanistan’s dominant crop.

"Tonight let me say it plainly: our Administration has short-changed the people of Afghanistan and our military units there. Therefore, I am ordering the Pentagon to increase our forces in Afghanistan. My administration will double our aid to the Karzai government. And I will work with our NATO allies to share the burden of providing security. We have been slack in our duty and must never allow either the Taliban or terrorist training camps to return."

On the military.

"Tonight I want to pledge to the loved ones and families of American soldiers that as Commander in Chief, I will do everything in my power to make sure our troops have all they need to protect themselves and accomplish their mission.

Let me read to you from a report that I received a few months ago: 'Richard Murphy is a military policeman in an Army Reserve unit in Iraq. His unit was issued outmoded flak jackets [from the Vietnam era]. When some of the modern Interceptor vests arrived, they lacked the ceramic-plate inserts needed to protect the soldier's vital organs. Murphy's mother, Suzanne Werfelman, had to spend more than a week's salary as an elementary school teacher in Scotia, Pa., to buy armor plates and send them to her son.' Richard Murphy continues to serve his country in Iraq but his mother is with us tonight, and I want to recognize her in the gallery. [Point to gallery next to the First Lady.] And let me say to Mrs. Werfelman and all Americans: this is simply unacceptable in the world’s greatest military, and I will not tolerate it.

"Our armed forces are stretched to their limits. Tonight, I announce that we are going to increase the size of our Army, and bring in new units dedicated to – and trained in – post-war reconstruction. For our battlefield victories will be short-lived if we do not adjust to the realities of post-conflict situation. I am also finalizing plans that will relieve the pressure on our National Guard and Reserve units, making sure they know what their mission is and how long it will last before they are sent overseas.

"To the bureaucrats at the Pentagon, I say start thinking about the military families first when you put on your green eyeshades. At a time when our defense budget equals that of all the other nations in the world combined, I am appalled at the reports I have read of Reservists not being allowed to have access to the military’s excellent health care system; I am ashamed that we have not paid to send home our troops on leave; and I am committed to maintaining the schools and facilities that make difficult military lives easier.

On weapons of mass destruction.

"As we meet tonight, the greatest threat to our country remains the terrorist or tyrant armed with a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon. And it is our job to take every concrete step we can to reduce that terrible threat.

"So I propose tonight that we raise to $2 billion the money that we spend on the so-called Nunn-Lugar programs – which have successfully helped us track down and destroy 6,212 nuclear warheads in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Frankly, we were wrong to tell the Office of Management and Budget to cut funds for this program two years ago. I commit to expanding its scope and its reach, even beyond Russia.

"To further our efforts on this front, I have directed Secretary of State Powell to fully engage in negotiations on renewal of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In the past, my Administration has approached treaty negotiations in an unconstructive ways. And while I do not believe that this or any treaty is a solution or a silver bullet, history has shown its usefulness in helping discourage governments from getting into the business of nuclear weaponry.

"Finally, in an effort to stop a new arms race before we begin it, I have asked the Pentagon to immediately cease work on the development of new nuclear weapons. In recent months I have been persuaded that there is not a compelling battlefield need for the so-called 'mini nukes.' Our nation cannot ask other nations to abandon their nuclear, chemical and biological weapons if we are not willing to set an example and demonstrate our own resolve to halt this terrible problem."

On homeland security.

"Our last line of defense is homeland security. And while we have made progress on many fronts over the last year, I am far from satisfied. Let me be blunt: the promises I made in last year’s State of the Union have not been met. Our attempts to unify federal efforts in the Department of Homeland Security have stalled; counter-terrorist operations remain dangerously uncoordinated; and we have failed to provide cities and counties with the funds they need to protect their communities in case of an emergency.

"And tonight I want to announce my five-point plan to better protect the American people. There is much more that we can do, of course, but I feel I owe you immediate action.

"First, I am canceling the color-coded alert system. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, experience has now shown that it does little but raise anxieties, send local law enforcement officials scrambling, and tell people the world over that we suspect something is in the works.

"Second, tonight I am announcing a new $125 million program with a simple objective: to train and help pay to put more police and fire personnel on the streets in communities across our country. There is no other way to put it: we are short-handed. Never again do I want to turn on the radio and listen to a report of a local sheriff’s department being depleted because so many of its members were called up to serve in the Reserve or the National Guard.

"Third, and this takes me back to my days as a governor, I am going to make up for one of the great 'unfunded mandates' that we have visited upon states, cities and counties in the past two years. I commit tonight to providing the funds that are draining city and county treasuries as local officials all over this country have committed resources to meet the emergency planning standards that we here in Washington have set.

"Fourth, I have directed the Department of Homeland Security to immediately inspect each of our nation’s manufacturing plants that use dangerous chemicals and pose an ongoing threat to nearby communities. Our voluntary program to encourage industry to meet new safety standards and to convert their plants to new, safer substances that are already on the market has not worked. Tonight I have a message to the Chemical Manufacturers Association and all the other K Street lobbyists who have visited the White House: we are no longer asking you to protect the people and set your profit margins aside. We are requiring you to do it.

"Finally, I have decided to take important steps to track down those who threaten us from within. I will appoint a new Director of Counter-Terrorism, with full budgetary powers and directions to take the steps necessary to cut across agency lines. Before work begins, however, I will ask the new Director to make sure that a copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is posted in every office.

"And as I leave you tonight, I want to make sure that every American citizen understands that we cannot, and will not, sacrifice our liberty at home in order to defend our values abroad. And that no American is above the law. Attorney General Ashcroft [point to front row on your right] I’d like to thank you for your public service, and wish you the best as you return to private life."

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