Originally published at Rubin Reports.
While President Obama’s State of the Union message was overwhelmingly domestically oriented, the foreign policy sections were most interesting.
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—were the following points:
Iraq Withdrawal. 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 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.
Osama Bin Laden. 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 the “Obama killed Osama” meme while hinting that al-Qaida is not a threat to the United States. Well, as Benghazi shows, al-Qaida 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.
Al Qaeda. Notice a very strange and ungrammatical formulation: “Most of Al Qaida’s top lieutenants have been defeated.” I think this can only be understood as an incomplete change in the traditional slogan that al-Qaida 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-Qaida leaders (al-Qaida has been decapitated) with hinting that al-Qaida 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-Qaida 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-Qaida will always be defeated politically because it has no strong political program or structure. That’s why al-Qaida kills but the Muslim Brotherhood wins. And Obama is helping the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Taliban. As for the Taliban, again there is a cute formulation: its “momentum has been broken.” In other words, the Taliban has survived, it is still launching attacks, and it might even take over large parts of Afghanistan after American troops leave. Momentum has been broken is just a fancy way of saying that its gaining power has been slowed down. Of course, after American troops leave, that momentum will probably speed up again.
In his second mention of foreign affairs, Obama spoke of economic issues, he says:
Obama’s policies don’t—in the strict sense of the term—reward businesses for shipping jobs overseas; they merely punish businesses for remaining in America. Taxing executives more while adding to the regulatory and cost burden will make things worse.
If one wants to analyze Obama’s claims the auto industry is the place to start. Look at the policies of General Motors, the most favored and government-influenced of all American companies, which has shipped jobs overseas. If American cars are on those foreign streets, it will be because they were manufactured in China. (I wonder if Obama’s choice of South Korea rather than China as the Asian country in his list was deliberately made to conceal that fact).
And then, par for the course, he announces a new and unneeded additional bureaucracy called the Trade Enforcement Unit that will carry on investigations that could be done by existing institutions. That’s how Obama creates jobs.
Then he produces a real whopper:
Yet Obama has claimed victory over the terrorists while U.S. forces in Iraq were at their height. His own statements undercut that argument. And what big new way is the United States been striking blows at its enemies since the withdrawal? I cannot think of anything (continued drone strikes in Yemen?). But if you think that the Benghazi terrorists (not the California videomaker), the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas in particular, the Syrian Brotherhood and Salafists, Hizballah, etc., are “enemies” then how has the Obama Administration escalated efforts against them now that it has pulled all those troops out of Iraq and can spare them for other operations?
Like much of Obama’s speech, if one actually pays attention to the language and claims, it dissolves into ridiculousness.
Then we come to the “Arab Spring”:
It was wise for Obama to emphasize who is leaving rather than who is coming into power:
And it is true that military cooperation with Israel is good—which is to say, normal not the greatest in history—but what Israeli leader believes that Obama can be relied on? The ones I speak to usually say something like this: “I never thought I’d see the day when we couldn’t depend on America.”
Incidentally, a number of analyses I’ve seen since writing this article emphasize Obama’s nice sentence about Israel as if it is of great importance or some kind of revelation. It is standard–even though he repeated the word “iron-clad”–and denotes absolutely nothing new. I don’t think Obama will do much in regards to bilateral relations but let’s be frank here: Since Obama believes he knows better what Israel security needs are than do its leaders then anything he does is “pro-Israel” even if it is against Israel’s will. I’m not trying to make any dramatic point here–again, bilateral relations will continue to be okay–but to point out the bizarre way Obama’s statements get interpreted in order to praise him.
The same applies to his standard sentence on keeping all options open regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease, from the blows we’ve dealt our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Think about the kind of mental construct that could produce this paragraph, which is unintentionally revealing. It shows Obama’s pattern of either refusing to acknowledge legitimate dissent (all the experts agree with me) and that he knows best (Israel doesn’t know what’s good for itself).
Yes, Mr. President, a lot of people around the world don’t think that America is back or that it still protects their back. And they do know what they are talking about and can cite many specific examples from your administration.
The next paragraph requires no comment from me. See if you can finish it and not be laughing:
Originally published at Rubin Reports.
About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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