The State of the Union Speech and National Security: Where We Need to Go from Here

“From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. 

Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”  

-President Barack Obama, State of the Union Message, January 23, 2012

President Obama in his January 24th State of the Union gave priority to the state of our economy, the need for good new economy jobs, and the importance of making investments, especially in science and technology in America.  He highlighted clean American-based energy. This direction is key for our economy and also for our long term national security and role in the world. It was undoubtedly the best speech he has made for a long time, which was, not surprisingly, criticized by his opponents and by some mainline media pundits and editorial writers whose priorities are with the 1% and oppose many of Obama’s foreign policies. President Obama argued forcefully, too forcefully for some, for an America that lifts up our middle class and workers, and emphasizes the key role of a good education.

The question is how many of his legislative proposals will pass and how many of his executive actions will have enough of an impact. The Republicans have reiterated again that they would rather bring down Obama (and America) than solve our economic plight or raise those in need. Obama called for cooperation at the end of his speech and received largely acrimony from the GOP.

In his last segment of the speech he turned specifically to American leadership abroad. He noted many of his key successes, which are hardly mentioned by his GOP opponents when talking about his “weak” national security posture. Yet that is hardly his record. He cited the killing of bin Laden, the New START treaty, the final withdrawal of our combat troops from Iraq, the beating down of the Taliban and the blows to “al Qaeda, whose operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.”  He cited the fall of Qaddafi as the fall of “one of the world’s longest-serving dictators -– a murderer with American blood on his hands.”  He noted the rise in opinion of the U.S.around the world and willingness to cooperate, including Russia in permitting our supplies to go into Afghanistan.

He cited the unity he has obtained in stronger U.S.and international sanctions on Iran. He said that we were determined that Iran would not get a nuclear weapons, and while no option is off the table, his administration is strongly pursuing negotiations in place of urging war as the one and only answer, as have some of the GOP leaders, candidates, and many of their far right neo-con supporters.

These “chicken hawks” are happy to send the struggling middle class, working families’ and the poor’s sons and daughters to unnecessary wars, but are not willing to pay themselves a fairer share of the costs out of their rich pockets. The same people who complain about Obama’s “smart power” and call him “weak” also are against increasing the tax on the rich including our neo-cons in order to pay for a “strong America.” They want more money for the military industrial complex but they are against increased taxes to pay for it and happy to take it from programs that support the vulnerable poor, the young, and the old. So much for the famed “City on the Hill” American exceptionalism analogy they throw around.

The most striking element of Obama’s approach to the unwise military force was his promise and actions to end the role of American combat troops in Iraq and withdraw them from Afghanistan in 2014. A second key element of his vision of the proper use of the military is not to engage in a massive ground war unless America’s own vital security is at stake and such use is necessary. He made this clear when he said:

“Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies.  From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America. 

From this position of strength, we’ve begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan.  Ten thousand of our troops have come home.  Twenty-three thousand more will leave by the end of this summer.  This transition to Afghan lead will continue, and we will build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, so that it is never again a source of attacks against America.”

There remains more to be said in the coming year about American strategy and its new “smart power,” lighter on the ground footprint, and better use of preventive diplomacy and peace making and peace keeping. Obama seems to be saying that a wise America that shows leadership, restraint, and use of engagement, allies and partners, and negotiation is a stronger America. But he also indicated he will keep our military strength to deal with those contingencies that may require their use. His use of diplomacy, intelligence, and development assistance, as well as, when needed, surgical pinpoint forces such as SEALs and drones are now in balance as the key tools for America in a high risk world.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

4 thoughts on “The State of the Union Speech and National Security: Where We Need to Go from Here

  1. Harry C. Blaney III January 29, 2012 / 5:14 PM

    I think we saw some of this during the last strategic review last year and with the contemplated cuts of about $400 billion. We may now see perhaps some 10% of ‘Super Committee” mandated cuts go through, which is invoking a look at our force structure and a look at how and when we get engaged in kinetic actions.

    The problem, as always, is the fight between those who just want more money for their own useless toys and those who are looking at our global landscape with a clear vision of the potential areas of risk to our security and interests and the real future capabilities of those who might cause us harm. And setting real priorities.

    Right now and into the foreseeable future we are indeed, as Obama said, still the indispensable power and despite the cries of the “crazies” that are running against him who said he is weakening America, there is no nation in sight (including the Chinese) that even approaches our reach and capability or will in decades. I Looked at the relative military-industrial base capabilities of the Soviet Union during the 1980s, when DOD keep insisting that the Soviets were nine feet tall……and both the intelligence people and our diplomatic people knew better. It was a fight over resources rather than over real needs and real risks. Any visit to the Soviet Union at that time would have affirmed that evaluation.

    On your last point, I share your concern and indeed the serious likelihood that we will not use our resources to address climate change which, as you will note in my “2012 look” bog post, is among the most important issues facing this and all nations. There just does not seem to be yet a “doable” multilateral road map to achieve a collective and truly serious effort. So a calamity faces this and the following generations and we are blind to its reality. My hope is that Obama knows that but realizes that with a Republican dominated Congress he can’t get a comprehensive effort through, so he trying for specific initiatives for clean energy and conservation. Smart. But more will be needed but probably only possible with a Democratic Congress after 2012.

  2. Paul Von Ward January 27, 2012 / 5:17 PM

    Harry, Congratulations on the concise context that supports the President’s current policies. I cannot disagree with them. However, I would like to see the Administration be more open about the reality of our balance of forces against the threats of today’s world. Even with cuts in the projected growth of our defense spending, we will still have far more troops and far more foreign bases than we need in our list of global security requirements. More foreign policy resources should be dedicated to engaging the rest of the world in cooperation in protecting the ecosystem that we depend on for healthy food, potable water, and clean air. In parallel we must focus on strengthening the institutions of civil society here and abroad. Paul

  3. Harry C. Blaney III January 27, 2012 / 3:52 PM

    Rev. Gaddis,

    I agree with much of what you stated but I am not sure that all the blame is equal between the politicians (GOP vs.Dems) or companies and unions. There are bad actors in both parties and in unions and companies, but NOT to the same degree. Look at Apple’s action against their workers in China..they are reportorially literally killing their workers….who have no real unions. There is also a difference between Obama’s strategic vision and restraint verses those GOP candidates (with the exception of Ron Paul), who seem to love blind war rather than seeking diplomacy and negotiation and avoiding war if possible.

    You know from your experience that there are few easy answers to life or global challenges. Simplistic answers are almost always wrong and ones that are both simplistic and based on narrow ideological perspectives, along with a large dollop of hate of others, are often tragically wrong and cost greatly in human lives and resources. Thank you for your comments. Harry


  4. Rev. James H. Gaddis January 27, 2012 / 11:11 AM

    I am a retired Viet Nam era veteran. I am tired of the crap of Political pimps of both parties and their religious cohorts with private jects and fenced in multimillion dollar estates with no taxes paid. Remember people get rich off of war. From multi billion dollar jets, nuclear sub, ships etc., while are sons and daughter loose their lives and limbs returning home to no jobs, ptsd, angry at illicit and harsh and corrupt politicians. It is shamefull at what is going on, On of the reasons for outsourcing is corrupt companies and labor unions. It is a dog eat dog inviornment. We are headed for a revolution if things do not change, My way or the highway is both incitive and corrupt.

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