WASHINGTON – Building a case for war against Iraq, President Bush said Tuesday night he will present fresh evidence to the United Nations next week of Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons and vowed the United States will lead a campaign to disarm the Iraqi regime if he refuses to surrender its arms.
"The course of this nation does not depend on the decision of others," Bush said in his second State of the Union address.
"We will consult, but let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm for the safety of our people, and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him," the president said.
Speaking to Congress and a global television audience, Bush presented a laundry list of Saddam's alleged offenses, some of them newly revealed to the public. He said intelligence sources have reported that thousands of Iraqi personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. weapons inspectors.
Specifically, Bush said Saddam has not accounted for up to 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulism toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard gas and VX nerve agent and upwards of 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical weapons.
"If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning," Bush said.
For the first time since the Sept. 11 attacks transformed him into a wartime president, Bush faced serious questions about his leadership. Most Americans don't approve of his handling of the economy, polls show, and only a bare majority support his policies on Iraq -- an area where the president enjoyed support of more than 80 percent a year ago.
"This country has many challenges. We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, other presidents and other generations," Bush said.
The speech was delivered amid intense security as lawmakers, Cabinet members, military leaders and Supreme Court justices gathered for the annual event. Several hundred people massed on the Capitol lawn to protest Bush's policies, ranging from a possible war in Iraq to his approach to health care.
The first half of Bush's address was devoted to domestic policy, a reflection of his desire not to let Iraq overshadow a presidential agenda geared toward the 2004 re-election campaign.
The heart of Bush's domestic agenda is his $674 billion plan to revive the economy and a $400 billion, 10-year plan to overhal Medicare. His plans also include medical liability, the environment and energy policy as well as efforts to help religious groups offer federally funded community services, aides said.
Democrats challenged Bush's efforts both at home and abroad.
Washington Gov. Gary Locke, tapped to deliver the Democratic response to Bush, said that economic recovery would not happen until states and cities receive help from Washington -- something missing from Bush's economic proposals.
"People are clearly worried about terrorism and Iraq but those concerns should not overshadow the pressing needs of the people here at home," Locke said.
The president described the nation as still recovering from recession, terrorist attacks, corporate scandals and stock market declines. "Our economy is recovering, yet it is not growing fast enough or strongly enough," Bush said.
He proposed spending new money for research to develop hydrogen powered cars and to tutor children of prison inmates. He also called for a new $600 million drug treatment program in which federal money could go to religious community service programs.
Bush, entering the first phase of his re-election campaign, opened his speech with a summary of his domestic agenda, then spent the last half of his address discussing a "world of chaos and constant alarm."
Sixteen months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the beginning of the battle against terrorism, Bush said, "The war goes on and we are winning."
While Usama bin Laden and other key terrorists still elude capture, the president said the United States has caught many key commanders of Al Qaeda.
Citing intelligence sources, Bush renewed his assertion that Saddam aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda.
"Secretly, without fingerprints, he could provide one of his hidden weapons to terrorists or help them develop their own," Bush said.
Invoking memories of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush said, "Imagine those 19 hijackers with other weapons and other plans -- this time armed by Saddam Hussein."
Bush said Saddam has shown "his utter contempt" for the United Nations and must be brought to account unless he disarms.
"The dictator of Iraq is not disarming. To the contrary, he is deceiving," the president said.
Among his charges:
-- The British government has learned that Saddam recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
-- Three Iraqi defectors say Iraq had several mobile biological weapons labs in the 1990s that are now not accounted for.
"The only possible use he could have for those weapons is to dominate, intimidate or attack," Bush said.
He said Powell will go to before the U.N. Security Council next Wednesday to present intelligence about Iraq's weapons programs.
Powell will allege that not only was Iraq hiding chemical and biological weapons from U.N. inspectors but smuggling in technology for long-range missile and nuclear weapons programs, a senior U.S. official said.
"The world has waited 12 years for Iraq to disarm," Bush said. "America will not accept a serious and mounting threat to our country, our friends and our allies."
Bush announced a federal center where all terrorism intelligence, foreign and domestic, will be analyzed. CIA Director George Tenet will oversee the operation, two administration officials said.
Bracing the nation for potential war, Bush said, "A future lived at the mercy of terrible threats is no peace at all. If war is forced upon us, we will fight in a just cause and by just means sparing, in every way we can, the innocent. And if war is forced upon us, we will fight with the full force and might of the United States military and we will prevail."
Top GOP congressional leaders sounded eager to get to work on Bush's legislative agenda. "We're about to get this ball rolling," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois. "We're ready to go," agreed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.
In a nod to his conservative base, Bush called on Congress to ban a certain type of late-term abortion and human cloning.
In keeping with tradition, a guest box in the galleries overlooking the House chamber was filled with living testimonials to the president's message.
This year's roster of guests included six people who the White House said would benefit from Bush's tax-cut proposal, two doctors described as hurt by high malpractice insurance costs and several people affiliated with aid organizations.
One gallery seat was to be left empty to symbolize "the empty place many Americans will always have" because of the September 2001 attacks, which led to last year's war against the Taliban and allied Al Qaeda.