Bush ignores problems, claims success in 2005


    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.
    economy.

    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.

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

    “As
    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.

    But
    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.

    As
    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.

    An
    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.

    Record-high
    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.”

    He
    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.

    The
    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
    investigation.

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

    Plame’s
    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.”