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: