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The State of the Union: President Obama on Afghanistan, Iraq, Etc.

For a majority of President Obama’s 2nd State of the Union address foreign affairs were only brought up in relation to domestic economic or social issues. For instance, the US was ‘falling behind’ South Korea in education and Europe in infrastructure… The focus on domestic issues should not be a surprise as Obama has already stated that ‘the country he’s most interested in building is our own’ and the United States is still struggling economically and psychologically with many Americans seeing a bleak future for our coming generations. Alas, there are foreign monsters abroad that need to be addressed by our Commander and Chief and Obama curtly discussed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Al Qaeda, and even Tunisia. I’ll make a few observations of these topics with Afghanistan at the end: (The near entirety of the SOTU’s foreign affairs section is found at the bottom of the post)

  • Iran and North Korea: Here is the President’s statement on those two destabilizing forces in international security:

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.

Yes, that’s it. If you want to scroll lower to the entire foreign policy section you can see a paragraph on Sudan that is longer. So in a speech dominated by domestic policy, we see a nuclear state that in the past year twice militarily attacked its southern neighbor, strong US ally South Korea, and another state nestled in the volatile Middle East that just turned down yet another Western attempt to disclose its nuclear capabilities and desires, get two sentences. Words in a speech do not define effective policy, but if you were Iran or North Korea, wouldn’t this signal to you that you are not one of the United States’ main concerns?

  • Iraq: Though I’ve read some conservative pundits critique the President for washing his hands of the conflict or for taking credit for the Bush administration’s surge and SOFA policies, I thought Obama did a good enough job discussing a topic that he nor the country probably wanted to talk about. Though the word ‘civilian’ is inaccurate (we still have  a strong military presence in the country),  Obama made a necessary statement in regards to our logn term commitment to the future of Iraq; ‘our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people.’
  • Afghanistan: The Afghan war, where over 100,000 American troops are currently engaged, received twice the time as Iran and North Korea…that’s right not one short paragraph, but two! (Highlighted below) Nothing really new was said. President Obama did state that our main reason for the war was to keep the Taliban from gaining a ‘stronghold’ where they could assist Al Qaeda in launching attacks on the US. If one takes this to heart, it is hard to imagine the administration being too lenient on negotiations with members of the Taliban, but they have shown many other signs that this is likely to occur. In this vein, the President also said that we will start to bring troops home in July, bringing back the fading July 2011 drawdown date that we haven’t heard much of lately. Does this mean that tens of thousands of American troops will be coming home in July? I still don’t think so, but a more than token amount will.

The Afghanistan and whole foreign policy section seemed to me like the President was checking boxes. It appears that those who predicted he would pivot to foreign affairs after the midterm defeat were wrong.

He’s a great interpretation of President Obama’s foreign affairs SOTU pronouncements by The Cable’s Josh Rogin:

Foreign Policy section the SOTU:

Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges. No single wall separates East and West; no one rival superpower is aligned against us.

And so we must defeat determined enemies wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom, justice, and dignity. And because we have begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended; violence has come down; and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.

Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we are disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.

We have also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear – by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.

In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001. Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield. Their safe-havens are shrinking. And we have sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: we will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.

American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war. Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START Treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed. Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.

Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter sanctions than ever before. And on the Korean peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.

This is just a part of how we are shaping a world that favors peace and prosperity. With our European allies, we revitalized NATO, and increased our cooperation on everything from counter-terrorism to missile defense. We have reset our relationship with Russia, strengthened Asian alliances, and built new partnerships with nations like India. This March, I will travel to Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador to forge new alliances for progress in the Americas. Around the globe, we are standing with those who take responsibility – helping farmers grow more food; supporting doctors who care for the sick; and combating the corruption that can rot a society and rob people of opportunity.

Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power – it must be the purpose behind it. In South Sudan – with our assistance – the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war. Thousands lined up before dawn. People danced in the streets. One man who lost four of his brothers at war summed up the scene around him: “This was a battlefield for most of my life. Now we want to be free.”

We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.