In State of the Union, Obama Defends Foreign Policy

The president dismisses as “hot air” claims that America is weaker and the world more dangerous.

President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his annual State of the Union address to Congress in Washington DC, January 28, 2014
President Barack Obama prepares to deliver his annual State of the Union address to Congress in Washington DC, January 28, 2014 (White House/Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama rebuked Republican fearmongering in this annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night and argued that America should stay the course in its foreign policy.

Dismissing as “hot air” both claims that the United States economy is in decline and its position in the world weakening, the Democrat, who is due to leave office next year, reminded congressmen and senators that their nation remains by far the most powerful on Earth. “It’s not even close,” he said.

Obama admitted that “this is a dangerous time.” But he disputed opposition claims that upheaval in the world is the result of a “diminished American strength.”

“In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states,” the president said.

“Over the top”

This website reported last year that Obama and the Republicans seeking to replace him see the Islamic terror threat in starkly different terms.

On Tuesday, the president rejected as “over the top” claims that the fight against the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and Syria amounts to a “World War III.”

Republicans like Jeb Bush — whose brother launched the “war on terror” after the September 11, 2001 attacks — Chris Christie and Marco Rubio have all portrayed the war as such.

Rubio, a senator, has even warned, “Either they win or we win.”

Contra Ted Cruz, another presidential hopeful, Obama maintained that it will take more than “tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians” to defeat the caliphate.

But he also cautioned against overstating the threat.

We just need to call them what they are: killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down and destroyed.


Defeating the Islamic State or violent groups like it should not require another big military adventure in the Middle East, Obama said.

He argued that the United States cannot “try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis.”

That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq – and we should have learned it by now.

Instead, the priority, he said, should be remaking “the international system we built after World War II.”

“And to do that well, it means that we’ve got to set priorities,” he added.

Obama’s words confirmed what the Atlantic Sentinel, among others, has argued: that the president sees Islamic fanaticism not as an existential threat and conflict in the Middle East more generally as a potential distraction from stopping revisionist powers like China, Iran and Russia from rewriting the rules of relations between states.

Hence Obama touted the Trans Pacific Partnership and preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon as key accomplishments of his presidency.

The first — a comprehensive trade agreement that could soon include nearly all Pacific Rim nations — should help pressure China into accepting a market-based economic order. It is the economic pillar of Obama’s “pivot” to Asia.

The Iran deal should not only avoid the risk of a nuclear standoff in the Middle East; if it heralds a normalization of ties with the Shia state, it could also see a more natural balance of power emerge in the region and allow America to wean itself off a one-sided dependence on oil-rich Sunni regimes.


Republicans, who control Congress, have doubts about both achievements.

While traditionally supportive of free trade, rightwingers — fearful of a populist revolt in their party — are poking holes in the Pacific trade deal.

And many see the agreement with Iran as surrender to a state that has sponsored terrorism against America and its allies, including Israel. Nearly all Republican presidential contenders have pledged to reverse it.

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