On foreign policy and national defense, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address was anemic.
It brushed over key issues like Iran and terrorism and skipped some important issues, like how best to handle detainees, entirely. There were, in fact, moments when the President’s rhetoric flew in the face of his actions, such as when he praised the very Iranian protestors whom had been ignored in the days after the Iranian election. Another example is that while he sounded supportive of free trade, what he said (e.g., his emphasis on export subsidies that will likely violate WTO rules and his non-reference to ratifying the free-trade agreements with Colombia and others) is actually quite protectionist in nature.
The comments on Afghanistan were perfunctory at best, focusing on bringing U.S. troops home rather than prevailing. There were other times when the President tried to shift blame for things which he had been partly responsible himself, such as in lamenting the loss of national unity since 9/11 — a development in which he had played such a huge role during the campaign when attacking U.S. policy in Iraq.
The President continued his ungracious habit of contrasting himself with the previous administration, such as when he claimed to have killed or captured more al-Qaeda “fighters” than in 2008, all the while taking credit for “ending the war” in Iraq without making the slightest attempt to credit President Bush’s policies for enabling that outcome.
One of the more awkward moments was when President Obama tried to claim the legacy of Ronald Reagan in his campaign to rid the world of nuclear weapons. This is disingenuous at best coming from a President who cut back on Reagan’s dream of missile defense. President Reagan’s entire claim to “make nuclear weapons obsolete” was based on his Strategic Defense Initiative, or SDI — the idea of defending against missile attack. It was not based on the empty dream of eliminating all nuclear weapons by arms control treaties, as President Obama has envisioned.
Finally, the speech had a couple of spurious claims that defy reality, such as when he pretended his policies have “strengthened our hand” in dealing with nations violating international proliferation agreements. If anything, North Korea and Iran have become more defiant on President Obama’s watch. While there were a couple of attempts to reach out to his critics, they fell short on a commitment to action.