“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.