President Bush took the nation to the edge of war with Iraq, declaring in his annual State of the Union message that Saddam Hussein had missed his "final chance" by showing contempt for U.N. weapons inspections.

The president, addressing a joint session of Congress and a nationwide television audience of tens of millions, stopped short of committing to war. But he provided a long list of examples of the Iraqi president's efforts to thwart the inspections and left no doubt that he is ready to part ways with allies who favor extended inspections in Iraq, serving notice that "America's purpose is more than to follow a process.

"The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others," the president said. "Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people."

Bush delivered the hour-long address at a time when his leadership, both domestic and foreign, is less popular than at any point since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Facing growing opposition to his Iraq policy, record doubts about his economic stewardship and lukewarm support for his domestic policies, Bush used Tuesday night's speech to refocus the nation's attention and priorities.

Specifically, he proposed spending $400 billion over 10 years to give seniors a prescription drug benefit if they join a Medicare HMO; $10 billion in new funding over five years to combat AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean; and $6 billion to develop vaccines and treatments for bioterrorism agents. Bush also said the nation is employing an "early warning network" of bioterrorism sensors. Bush also announced he will form a Terrorist Threat Integration Center to combine domestic and foreign intelligence from throughout the government.

In both foreign and domestic affairs, Bush proposed little in the way of far-reaching new policies. Rather than offer new remedies for the nation's ills, he stuck mostly to his existing proposals and policies. The speech, in that sense, was somewhat cautious, mustering updated arguments to build support for existing proposals, many of which face difficult prospects in Congress.

-- Dana Milbank and Mike Allen

"The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others," President Bush said Tuesday.