One State of the Union Moment

By Gene Harper

Safia Taleb al-Suhail, leader of the Iraqi Women’s Political Council, second on right, displays a peace sign as other guests applaud during President Bush’s State of the Union speech at the U.S. Capitol Feb. 2. Also pictured are, from left, Kindergarten teacher Lorna Clark of Santa Theresa, New Mexico, Army Staff Sergeant Norbert Lara, and first lady Laura Bush.

White House Photo / DoD Photo

Two women provided the most touching moments during President Bush’s State of the Union address.

They had so much, yet so little in common. Destiny — and a bit of planning — brought them together in a testament to America’s fight against global terrorism.

American Janet Norwood and Iraqi Safia Taleb al-Suhail were seated with the president’s wife, Laura Bush, in the House chamber perched above the ground- floor level where the president was delivering his speech to Congress. Al- Suhail was next to the first lady; Norwood, with her husband, Bill, was directly behind al-Suhail.

The president followed modern custom by introducing his special guests at opportune moments during his address. First, the spotlight shone on al-Suhail. The president called her "one of Iraq’s leading democracy and human rights advocates."

"She says of her country," he said, "’We were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost, but most of all to the soldiers.’"

The senators, representatives, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Cabinet members, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other invited guests heard Bush relate how Saddam’s intelligence service assassinated al-Suhail’s father 11 years ago. "Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country," Bush noted, "And we are honored that she is with us tonight."

Amidst thunderous applause, al-Suhail stood and alternately waved her index finger and gave the two-fingered Iraqi peace sign, her hand visibly shaking all the while.

Bush continued his speech, laying out successes and challenges facing Iraq, and then talked about the Norwoods.

He said that the Norwoods had traveled from Pflugerville, Texas, to represent their late son, Marine Sgt. Byron Norwood, killed in action on Nov. 13, 2004, in the fierce battle of Fallujah, Iraq, to wrest control of the city from insurgents.

"His mom, Janet, sent me a letter and told me how much Byron loved being a Marine and how proud he was to be on the front line against terror," the president said, "She wrote," he continued, ‘When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him, like I had since he was born.’

"He just hugged me and said, ‘You’ve done your job, Mom. Now it is my turn to protect you.’"

Bush then introduced the couple, who were both moved by the extended applause they received. Janet especially could barely contain her emotions, her lip quivering and eyes watering.

Then came the defining moment: Al-Suhail turned around and embraced Janet. People nearby and the millions of television viewers around the word could clearly see Janet clutching her son’s military dog tags as she hugged al- Suhail. There they were — the ultimate symbols of the war against terrorism, liberated citizen and grieving mother, representing the burdens and hopes of democracy.

But there was more: To add to the poignant symbolism of this unfolding drama, as the two women parted, the dog tags became entangled in al-Suhail’s clothing. Janet Norwood carefully freed them. All the while, applause continued, with the president and first lady still looking on proudly.

"In these four years, Americans have seen the unfolding of large events," Bush continued after the assembly had just witnessed the symbolic hug. "We have known times of sorrow and hours of uncertainty and days of victory. In all this history, even when we have disagreed, we have seen threads of purpose that unite us."

Janet Norwood and Safia Taleb al-Suhail are the literal embodiment of that purposeful unity.

"The attack on freedom in our world has reaffirmed our confidence in freedom’s power to change the world," Bush said. "We are all part of a great venture: to extend the promise of freedom in our country, to renew the values that sustain our liberty, and to spread the peace that freedom brings."

Articles Related to the State of the Union Address:

** State of the Union Excerpts
** The Full State of the Union Address

** Summarization of the State of the Union Address

The White House

State of the Union Excerpts

February 2, 2005

Two weeks ago, the President renewed America’s commitment to the ideal of liberty for all. Tonight, he will lay out the policies to advance that ideal at home and abroad:

“Over the next several months, on issue after issue, let us do what Americans have always done, and build a better world for our children and grandchildren.”

“First, we must be good stewards of this economy, and renew the great institutions on which millions of our fellow citizens rely.”

“One of America’s most important institutions – a symbol of the trust between generations – is also in need of wise and effective reform. Social Security… on its current path, is headed toward bankruptcy. And so we must join together to strengthen and save Social Security.

“Fixing Social Security permanently will require an open, candid review of the options… I will work with members of Congress to find the most effective combination of reforms.”

The President will talk about the enduring values that make America strong, including promoting a culture of life and extending the compassion of America by supporting community and faith-based organizations that help our most vulnerable citizens:

“Our second great responsibility to our children and grandchildren is to honor and to pass along the values that sustain a free society… Government is not the source of these values, but government should never undermine them.”

Finally, the President will talk about our on-going efforts to win the war on terrorism by supporting the advance of freedom in the broader Middle East and across the world:

“Our third responsibility to future generations is to leave them an America that is safe from danger, and protected by peace. We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy – and chief among them is freedom from fear.”

“…During this time of war, we must continue to support our military and give them the tools for victory.”

“…In the next four years, my Administration will continue to build the coalitions that will defeat the dangers of our time.”

“In the long term, the peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. …The only force powerful enough to stop the rise of tyranny and terror, and replace hatred with hope, is the force of human freedom.”

“…The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace is within reach – and America will help them achieve that goal.”

“To promote peace and stability in the broader Middle East, the United States will work with our friends in the region to fight the common threat of terror, while we encourage a higher standard of freedom.”

“Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom, especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honored in Iraq.”

“We will succeed because the Iraqi people value their own liberty – as they showed the world last Sunday.”

“…The new political situation in Iraq opens a new phase of our work in that country…we will increasingly focus our efforts on helping prepare more capable Iraqi security forces – forces with skilled officers, and an effective command structure.”

“…We are standing for the freedom of our Iraqi friends, and freedom in Iraq will make America safer for generations to come.”

“The volunteers of our military are unrelenting in battle, unwavering in loyalty, unmatched in honor and decency, and every day they are making our nation more secure.”