“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient…” Last week President Obama fulfilled his constitutional obligation and gave what some have come to refer to as our annual “national pep talk.” When did we accept that the State of the Union address as a forum to test the political waters rather than a moment to decide on a path for our nation? Pardon me Mr. President, but America is in need of more than a pep talk.
We need resolution; we need to resolve to be better, to define who we are as a country, set goals and fearlessly pursue them.
That said, we are not entirely without direction. In the last year we have ended the war in Iraq, tactfully supported revolution in the Middle East, and are attempting to streamline the defense budget and rebuild our anemic diplomatic resources. In the words of President Obama at the release of the Department of Defense’s new goals for 21st Century Defense—“our nation is at a moment of transition.” We need to seize this moment to decide what we want to represent to the world. And that is what I had hoped to hear last Tuesday.
Instead, the President stuck his head further into the sand, declaring that anyone who believes America is in decline “does not know what they are talking about.” Again, not to be tactless, but we have a Congress that was unable to complete one of its fundamental purposes (to pass a budget) and gave the rest of the world the impression that we have been practicing pluralism as long as the new Afghani parliament. Additionally, as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for the last ten years we have been a nation that represents secrecy, invasion, and violence to the rest of the world. How can we expect to negotiate with Russia, North Korea, and Iran with our recent track record? How can we help nurture new democratic regimes when we pass legislation like section 1031 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012? How can we return to a “normal” relationship with Pakistan, if we were never able to establish one in the first place?
To achieve our diplomatic goals, I propose that as a country we resolve to return to our revolutionary roots. I am not espousing a return to a reckless neoconservative agenda bent on forcing democracy on any and all who oppose us, but pleading for us all to recognize that we are in decline and that decline is the result of a fractured American identity. Until we decide on who we are as a country, we will not be able to devise a successful foreign policy—how can you plan an itinerary without knowing the destination? Our founding mothers and fathers fearlessly fought against a seemingly unbeatable foe to win their freedom and independence. We need to eliminate the doubt and paranoia epitomized in the NDAA 2012 and proudly declare we are Patrick Henry’s country of “give me liberty or give me death,” not another country that tells its citizens to “shut up.” It is my hope that armed with such an identity we can elect more responsible leadership, proudly present ourselves to the international community with a strong sense of our goals and values, and retake our position as “the one indispensable nation in world affairs.”