Obama’s State of the Union Speech: My Response Discovers Some Curious Insights and Strange Formulations

In his State of the Union message, President Barack Obama began by wrapping himself in the flag, patriotism, and love of the armed forces while trying to highlight his foreign policy achievements. Among his points:

"The United States [is] safer and more respected around the world."

Presumably, a lot of Americans will believe this. The United States may be said to be safer in terms of facing direct terror attacks but that was basically true in 2002. As for “more respected”—a phrase no doubt chosen to seem more statesmanlike than saying “more popular”--that is a joke. If there’s one thing that should be obvious (and this is often revealed even by international public opinion polls) it is that the United States is not more respected at all.

Moreover, while individual Americans may be relatively safe from terrorist attacks in their homes, neighborhoods and workplaces within the territory of the United States—a perception partly reinforced by redefining terrorist attacks as something else—U.S. interests abroad are far less safe.

“For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.”

True, but the remaining U.S. forces, though designated as a training force, may have to fight to defend themselves. This withdrawal, of course, was planned by Obama’s predecessor and Iraq is not doing so well today.

“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.”

Aside from the lack of grammar here—was Obama trying to avoid saying that these people were killed?—the statement is true. The problem is that Hamas, Hizballah, the Turkish regime, Iran, Syria, and the Muslim Brotherhood add up to a far bigger threat, a problem magnified by Obama refusing to acknowledge they are a threat.

“The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.”

While the latter point about withdrawal is true, the Taliban is still quite strong. It would be quite possible for the Taliban to return to power within five years.

Then Obama rearranges history—quite obviously though no one in the mass media will point this out:

“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.”

In fact, of course, the successes against al-Qaeda were obviously achieved before the withdrawal. Are al-Qaeda operatives trembling in fear before the might of America? Of course not. And in both Pakistan and Yemen (one should add Somalia) they are doing quite well. Obama could have done better by referring to the defeat of al-Qaeda as being part of the American “victory” in Iraq.

“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.”

Again, Obama tells an unnecessary lie. The withdrawal from Iraq is a correct move but hardly puts the United States in a position of strength, especially given Obama’s deep cuts on the military. And of course the end of the war in Afghanistan was planned long before any withdrawal in Iraq; indeed it was basically planned during his predecessor’s term.

As for an “enduring partnership with Afghanistan,” that’s the kind of statement bound to come back to haunt Obama. Afghanistan remains unstable, its government is angry with Obama, and the tide may well turn there after a U.S. withdrawal.

Next, Obama turns to the Arab Spring. He refers to his success in Libya:

“A year ago, Qadhafi was one of the world's longest-serving dictators - a murderer with American blood on his hands. Today, he is gone.”

True, but what will replace him?

“And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change can't be reversed, and that human dignity can't be denied.”

In fact, for two and a half years, Obama strongly backed—in contrast to predecessors—that regime which denied “human dignity.” And he’s doing very little to help that transformation now.

My number-one complaint about Obama—not that there aren’t others but this is in first place—is that he never hints at the dangers in the region precisely because he doesn’t recognize that they exist.