1-20-16 – Foggy Foreign Policy in Obama’s State of Union

by John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS- President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, the annual speech to a joint session of Congress, has emerged as more of a political pep rally than a clear overview of America’s standing in the world both domestic and foreign. The address was touted as a “vision speech,” but alas the vision appeared blurry, especially in the realm of foreign policy.

In a preachy and often pedantic address, the President often followed the path of poignant partisanship as if this was not a policy address but a political campaign speech. Set to the backdrop of the ongoing U.S. presidential campaign, the speech naturally reflected the Democrat/Republican divide but let’s face it, the President himself has encouraged much of this political and group balkanization.

Nonetheless, the address offered a new level of political Kabuki where through the shadows of rhetoric and imagery, the American people’s genuine frustrations over the economy, global terrorism, domestic security and Washington’s political gridlock were overlooked.

Interestingly, President Obama’s final State of the Union address marked a new record low in TV and cable viewership, according to Nielsen ratings.

Thus when the President moved from his self-congratulatory “happy talk” about the American economy and stubbornly defended his controversial Obama Care medical insurance policies, the fog of foreign policy enveloped parts of the discourse.

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

“Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people,” but then echoed his Republican predecessor by saying, ”When you come after Americans, we go after you. It may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limit.”

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

The foreign policy segment was very Middle East centric; largely because the world is still facing the disastrous aftermath of the Arab Spring, a policy encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s State Department which brought not democracy to many Mid-Eastern autocracies, but chaos which has unleashed sectarianism, terrorism and enduring instability.

Look at the list. Egypt, Syria, Libya, Yemen. The Islamic jihadi genie is out of the bottle. Syria is consumed in conflict with millions of refugees paying the price. Libya is wracked by militias and tribal discord. Yemen, the Administrations long-touted success story, is torn asunder. The plight of Mideast Christians continues.

Partly as a result of the Administration’s nuclear “deal” with Teheran, the Arab states led by Saudi Arabia remain fearfully nervous about American commitment and their political future.

Specifically, the Iran deal was touted as a success in Washington’s relations with the Islamic Republic. Yet even as Obama was making his address, ten American U.S. Navy personnel and their ships were being detained in the Persian Gulf by Iran’s fanatical Revolutionary Guards. The humiliation of this incident, despite its quick resolution, offered a stark reminder that the Islamic Republic wishes to flex its muscles in the region and confront the USA.

While Obama pushes his Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade initiative with East Asia, the wider context of Far Eastern security was left unanswered; namely Washington’s clear and unambiguous commitment to defense in South Korea and Japan.

Despite Obama’s perennial focus on nuclear non-proliferation, there was not a word about North Korea’s recent nuclear test.

Here are a few additional non-mentions; Israel, nor America’s solidarity with recent victims of terrorism in Paris or Istanbul.

Obama did not address any clear policy on the strained but vital relationship relations with Russia while sovereign Ukraine was inexplicably called a Russian “client state.” What about Nigeria facing Boko Haram terror?

Obama gave himself a political pat on the back for opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, one of the entire Hemisphere’s last dictatorships.

Lacking American leadership and the power vacuum it has created is reflected in global chaos.

But then, maybe we would rather not talk about it.


John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.

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