Before the State of the Union address, Heritage Foundation scholars laid out five foreign policy and national security commitments that needed to be in the speech. The President scored about 1 out of 5. The speech did nothing to dispel concerns that the Obama Doctrine just does not make the grade.
- A Commitment to Peace and Prosperity Through Strength. Grade: “0.” The President’s call for a federal spending freeze did not include “security.” The problem is that the White House’s five-year budget forecast already calls for cuts (in constant dollars) for core defense programs. Furthermore, Heritage estimates that the Pentagon is already under-funding what is needed to replace, upgrade, or repair existing equipment. To make the grade, Obama needed to call for defense budgets that average $720 billion per year (adjusted for inflation) for each of the next five fiscal years in addition to the funding needed for ongoing contingency operations. At the same time, he had to pledge to reduce the overall budget by at least $170 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2012. Furthermore, the President’s commitment to real defense reforms and efficiencies rings completely false. “The Secretary of Defense,” Obama asserted, “has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.” That statement rings hollow. The Marine Corps, for example, was recently forced to kill its Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle program not because they don’t need the capability but because the President’s budgeters said it was simply not affordable. Likewise, the Pentagon killed-off the F-22 fighter, cutback missile defense, and pushed back the F-35 aircraft procurement and then offered up a circular logic that the programs were not needed or not ready. In reality, little of the Pentagon savings program is real savings from efficiencies—mostly it’s just cuts labeled as efficiencies. Real reforms would save defense up to $90 billion. But there was no commitment for Obama for real reform.
- A Renewed Commitment to Protect and Defend the American People. Grade: big fat “0.” Rather than make the case for missile defense and maintaining a nuclear arsenal adequate to the needs of U.S. security, the President simply trumpeted the deeply flawed New START treaty, declaring that now “fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed.” What he did not mention was that all the reductions would be by us!
- A Commitment to End Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Ambitions Once and for All. Grade: “0.” “Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter sanctions than ever before,” Obama crowed. Here is what the President did not mention. (1) The last round of negotiations with Iran failed miserably, and (2) the Administration has been slow-rolling enforcement of the sanctions rather than ratcheting up pressure on the regime. That’s a big mistake.
- An Unshakable Commitment to Finish the Job in Afghanistan. Grade: 0.5. Credit to the President for reminding the American people of the importance of taking the fight to al-Qaeda and finishing the job in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the President ruined this section of the speech by gratuitously throwing in “and this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.” The President continues to want to be all things to all people on Afghanistan policy. As Heritage Asian expert Walter Lohman noted, “He toggles between 2011 and 2014 depending on the audience. Terrible mixed message, terrible leadership.” Resurrecting the 2011 deadline in his State of the Union address was just pure politics. The reality is that the strategy is working, but gains are reversible. Now would be the worst time to start a serious drawdown, and the White House knows it. It would be the ultimate act of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. There are even too many variables right now to say that Afghanistan will be ready by 2014. What we do know is that, for now, we are moving in the right direction and that our actions are important not just for the future of Afghanistan but whither Pakistan. We used to say that you can’t save Afghanistan without Pakistan; now we see that we can’t save Pakistan from the Islamists without winning in Afghanistan, and you can’t deal a death blow to al-Qaeda without success on both sides. Last December, Heritage’s Lisa Curtis and Jim Philips outlined the right next steps. It would have been far better if Obama focused on what needs to be done rather than throwing a bone to the anti-war left.
- A Real Commitment to Free Trade. Grade: 0.5. At least the President mentioned the importance of trade. Obama did say that he intended to “pursue agreements with Panama and Colombia, and continue our Asia Pacific and global trade talks.” Somehow he could not find it in himself to add the word free to trade. That he talked about “talks” instead of agreements is also troubling. The fact is that free trade deals were worked out with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia years ago, but the President has just not pressed for their approval by Congress. Meanwhile, Asia Pacific and global trade talks are stalled in part because the U.S. has shown such apathetic leadership. Perhaps it is because progressives detest free trade that the President had to make endorsing a serious trade agenda so equivocal. Nevertheless, the speech fell far short of what needed to be said.
The State of the Union address was a pale shadow of what the nation should expect from Presidents who are responsible for providing for the common defense. Nor was foreign policy the only disappointing part of the speech. When it comes to keeping the nation safe, free, and prosperous, Obama’s rhetoric falls far short of a passing grade.