President George W. Bush tried Saturday to dismiss a difficult year plagued by
instability in Iraq and political scandal in Washington by claiming
progress toward democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and a strong U.S.

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, New Year’s Eve,
Bush said “2005 has been a year of strong progress toward a freer, more
peaceful world and a more prosperous America.”

But it was a year
in which Bush faced sharp criticism for his handling of the Iraq war,
methods for fighting terrorism, and the administration’s slow response
to Hurricane Katrina.

Bush, who advocates spreading democracy in
the Middle East, praised the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, and
pledged that the United States would not abandon the two countries.

forces ousted the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan after the September 11
attacks and toppled Saddam Hussein in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

we help Iraq build a peaceful and stable democracy, the United States
will gain an ally in the war on terror, inspire reformers across the
Middle East and make the American people more secure,” Bush said.

the American public showed growing discontent with the Iraq war in
which more than 2,100 U.S. soldiers and thousands of Iraqis have died.

an insurgency showed few signs of abating, critics called for a firm
timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq. Bush steadfastly
refused, saying that would only embolden the enemy, and American troops
would leave when Iraqi forces were able to take over security.

The president’s popularity bounced near year-end after the December 15 election in Iraq and an improved economic outlook.

ABC News/Washington Post poll released on December 19 showed Bush’s
job-approval rating rising to 47 percent, its highest level since
March, and up from the all-time low of 39 percent in November.

gasoline prices earlier this year also weighed on Bush’s popularity.
But statistics toward the end of the year showed the economy on solid
ground, growing at a 4.1 percent annual rate in the third quarter
despite taking a beating from the hurricanes.

Bush credited his policies for economic growth, and said the U.S. economy “remained the envy of the world.”

called for making tax cuts permanent and expanding free trade, both of
which are expected to be key economic themes for his administration in
the new year. Democrats have criticized the tax cuts, saying they
largely benefit the wealthy.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
of California criticized Republican budget priorities. “Democrats have
proposed a budget which protects the middle class, reduces the deficit,
and reflects our American values,” she said in the weekly Democratic
radio address.

Bush said the United States was “on track” to cut
the federal deficit in half by 2009. The deficit in fiscal 2005, which
ended September 30, narrowed to $318.62 billion from a record $412.85
billion in fiscal 2004.

More recently Bush had to answer
criticism about authorizing the National Security Agency to eavesdrop
inside the United States without seeking court approval on Americans
suspected of ties to terrorism.

Bush said he had broken no laws in authorizing the secret domestic spying program in the face of a continued terrorism threat.

White House was also buffeted by an investigation into the leak of the
identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame when a special prosecutor
indicted Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick
Cheney, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in the

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has not yet finished the inquiry, so it was not known whether others would be indicted.

husband, former diplomat Joe Wilson, said he was satisfied with
Fitzgerald’s handling of the case and would like to see “there is some
justice in this, and some resolution to exactly what happened and why
it happened and how it happened.”