While the State of the Union message was overwhelmingly domestically oriented, the foreign policy sections were most interesting. I’ll review them here.
The president began in the same neo-patriotic mode used in the second inaugural address, with a special emphasis on thanking U.S. troops. He used the imagery of the end of World War II paralleling the return of troops from Iraq to promote his idea that the American economy must be totally restructured.
Obama defined his main successes — careful to credit the military (whose budget he seeks to cut deeply and whose health benefits he’s already reduced) rather than his usual emphasis on taking the credit for himself — as the following:
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 Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken. And some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.
Now there certainly have been accomplishments on these three fronts, but these claims are also profoundly misleading and very carefully worded. Let’s take them one at a time.
— It is true that U.S. forces are largely out of Iraq, yet this was inevitable, with one key reservation. There was no likelihood they would be there in a large combat role forever. Whatever one thinks of the invasion of Iraq, the American forces were staying for an interim period until the Iraqi army was ready. Any successor to George W. Bush would have pulled out the combat forces.
The reservation, of course, is that it was the success of the surge — which Obama opposed and his new secretary of defense (yes, he will be confirmed) Chuck Hagel opposed. So he is taking credit for a policy that was inevitable and that was made possible by a success that he was against.
Lest you think that assessment is unfair to Obama, consider this: he did absolutely nothing to make this outcome happen. No policy or strategy of his administration made the withdrawal faster or more certain.
— This is a strange phrase: “For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” It is a new way of putting out the “Obama killed Osama” meme, while hinting that al-Qaeda is not a threat to the United States. Well, as Benghazi shows, al-Qaeda is still a threat, but wording the sentence the way Obama did implies otherwise without saying so and looking foolish at making an obviously false claim.
— Notice a very strange and ungrammatical formulation: “Most of al-Qaieda’s top lieutenants have been defeated.” I think this can only be understood as an incomplete change of the traditional slogan that al-Qaeda has been defeated. The administration can no longer make this argument so it is looking for something that gets in bin Ladin’s assassination and that of other al-Qaeda leaders (al-Qaeda has been decapitated) while hinting that al-Qaeda has been defeated.
In other words, someone did a bad job of proofreading the speech. Of course, all of this glosses over the fact that al-Qaeda hasn’t been defeated. It is on the march in Mali, the Gaza Strip, Somalia, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Yemen, and other places.
Incidentally, al-Qaeda will always be defeated politically because it has no strong political program or structure. That’s why al-Qaeda kills but the Muslim Brotherhood wins. And Obama is helping the Muslim Brotherhood.