Foreign Policy Issues in SOTU

January 29, 2014

He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

-The Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 3

President Obama took to the House chamber last night to deliver a speech intended not only to reflect his policy priorities (“such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”), but to address the issues of most immediate concern to the voting public.  That set of issues, according to January polling, are overwhelmingly dominated by domestic matters.  These will, quite naturally, receive the greatest share of attention as the media and pundits break down the speech.

But while talking heads busy themselves dissecting the president’s exposition of his domestic policy priorities, we thought we’d take a look at his comments on the issues that we cover at War on the Rocks.  These comments, for better or worse, will define the framework within which the administration will develop its responses to foreign policy challenges and international crises, both those that are ongoing and those that will inevitably emerge in the coming year

Enjoy.  And as always, give us your feedback to the speech in the comments section!

On the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops and civilians who risk and lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. When I took office, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, all our troops are out of Iraq. More than 60,000 of our troops have already come home from Afghanistan. With Afghan forces now in the lead for their own security, our troops have moved to a support role. Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over…

On Afghanistan:

After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future…If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al-Qaida. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country…

On terrorism:

The fact is that danger remains. While we’ve put al-Qaida’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks…

On Syria:

In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks…

American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated. And we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve—a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear…

On the use of military force:

But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our outstanding military alone. As commander in chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it is truly necessary, nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us—large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism…

On drones:

So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing. That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones, for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence…

On intelligence and surveillance:

That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated…

On GITMO:

And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world…

On Middle East peace:

As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in the difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the state of Israel—a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side…

On Iran:

And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program—and rolled back parts of that program—for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It’s not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon…

These negotiations will be difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and we’re clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away. But these negotiations don’t rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today…

The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible. But let me be clear: if this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance—and we’ll know soon enough—then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war…

On America’s place in the world:

My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might but because of the ideals we stand for and the burdens we bear to advance them…

On veterans:

As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned and our wounded warriors receive the health care—including the mental health care—that they need. We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home, and we will all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families…

On global oil and gas dependence:

And here are the results of your efforts…more oil produced—more oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world, the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years…

Now, one of the biggest factors in bringing more jobs back is our commitment to American energy. The “all the above” energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades…

On military (and civilian defense and diplomatic) service:

And I know this chamber agrees that few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States armed forces…

And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions…

 

John Amble is the Managing Editor of War on the Rocks.  A former United States Army intelligence officer, he has been featured in print and broadcast media in the U.S. and Canada.  Follow him on Twitter @johnamble.

 

Photo credit: Roger Sayles