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Obama: America Is Back

Obama: America Is BackObama: America Is BackPresident Obama delivered his final State of the Union address to Congress last night before facing the voters in November. Although the speech was primarily concerned with economic matters and his efforts to build an “economy built to last,” it also contained several references to foreign policy and can be seen as a refutation of recent partisan criticism of his policies. In highlighting recent successes in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the capture of Osama bin Laden, Obama sought to push back again criticism that he is leading America’s military into decline. And in noting a resurgence in world opinion of the U.S. and an active U.S. role, he pushed back against critics who say he apologized for America and lowered the profile of the U.S. on the world stage. As the following excerpt shows, it was an unapologetic defense of an assertive U.S. role in the world:

We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world. For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home. These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness and teamwork of America’s Armed Forces. […] And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests. Look at Iran.  Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one.  The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent. Let there be no doubt:  America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. […] The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to the Americas are deeper. Our ironclad commitment — and I mean ironclad — to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history. We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope.  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. hat’s not the message we get from leaders around the world who are eager to work with us. That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin, from Cape Town to Rio, where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years.

The State of the Union address is at best an opportunity for the president to be Cheerleader-in-Chief and to use the powers of the presidency to propose programs and initiatives that make all of our problems seem solvable if only the Congress would simply follow his lead. It’s an opportunity for him to deliver a national pep-talk that allows us all to feel good about the country and our role in the world. In the harsh light of day critics are sure to find fault in many of his statements, but for one brief moment (very brief if you watched the televised response from the opposition party following the speech) we can all cheerfully buy into the spin that all is well.

Should we allow doubts to enter, listen to the critics, and find fault with such a grand exercise in shared wishful thinking? We could, if we wanted to, note counter-examples to almost every positive statement. Yes, for example, the alliance between the U.S. and Israel is strong. And yes, the U.S. is resolved that Iran should not become a nuclear power. How then to explain the sudden delay in long-planned military exercises between the U.S. and Israel? Has deterrence suddenly become unfashionable? And yes, the U.S. is for free trade an open markets, but we are apparently not averse to a little populist protectionism (with China) when needed. And yes, the U.S. is back. But, excuse me, I wasn’t aware that we left.

Still, I’m inclined to bask in the moment for at least one night and to accept the idealized picture presented by the president as a true representation of reality. It’s the U.S., and the U.S. role in the world, as we wish them to be, and perhaps if we try hard enough, as they will be.

Image Credit: Press Pool photo by Saul Loeb



Joel Davis

Joel Davis is the Director of Online Services at the International Studies Association in Tucson, Arizona. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona, where he received his B.A. in Political Science and Master's degree in International Relations. He has lived in the UK, Italy and Eritrea, and his travels have taken him to Canada, Brazil, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and Greece.

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Areas of Focus:
State Department; Diplomacy; US Aid; and Alliances.

Contact Joel by e-mail at [email protected].