Lowdown on Obama’s State of the Union Address

President Obama headed to the Capitol to deliver his final State of the Union (SOTU) address on January 12, 2016. It is an American tradition that every year the US President addresses the nation about the existing state of affairs of the union, including foreign affairs of the country. There is a need to analyse some points of our concern in his speech. After more than seven years, in SOTU address, he still believes that America is the most powerful country on earth. But the Republicans don’t seem in agreement with Obama as they see America surrendering its authority in the international politics, especially due to Obama’s actions and inactions on Iran, Syria and Russia.

President Obama was really at the time of his office and this was an opportunity for him to look back and say that there might be something, which might be going wrong right now as well but this was his successful presidency. Remember where America was back in 2008, when hundreds of thousands of jobs were being lost and stock market plummeting. According to some estimates in the Washington Post, unemployment has fallen to 5 percent, more than 17 million Americans have health care coverage under Obama’s program, median household income finally reached US$ 56,746 in November 2015, after a near-death experience, the auto industry has surged coupled with violent crime is down; so are gas prices. So, on domestic front, he has done good job indeed.

But on foreign policy front, some termed it opinion not fact. More challenging to the President’s argument may be foreign policy, where his successes have been overshadowed by turmoil from Paris to Ukraine to Libya to Syria and US’ inability in these crises. Though he is a good speaker but he really got it wrong on the “Arab spring” and that will haunt his legacy. He finally acknowledges his shortcomings that may tarnish his legacy, similar to Jimmy Carter’s failed Middle East policy. Every President in the last two or three decades has had a failed Middle East policy as every President who fails to address Palestine and the plight of the Palestinians, has failed in some part of the wider Middle Eastern policy.

The most important and worrisome remarks of Obama on instability in the world where he said that America’s “…foreign policy must be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there, for even without ISIL, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world — in the Middle East, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in parts of Central America, Africa and Asia…” Obama also hinted that America shall not resolve the crisis of every nation and talked about a smarter approach rather, which actually reflects US’ inability in resolving the issues of the world alone, being the sole super power. Obama said: “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis…on issues of global concern; we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight”. This also shows that American exceptionalism has started a downward trend and states facing crises should not expect US coming to get them out of these crises.

Obama mentioned Pakistan in his speech one time only and according to him, instability would continue for decades. This reflects the nature of future relationship of the US with Pakistan, which would be dominated by the US asking Pakistan to do more as the SOTU address is considered as a future guideline for the next President. Also, on assistance, he said that American foreign assistance should be seen as part of its national security, not charity. But someone should better ask him that what about the national security of other states including Pakistan, which have been fighting the menace of terrorism for the security of the world, created by the failed policies of the US in the past,. Again, peace in Afghanistan depends on international politics and policies dominated by the US. So, it was probably easy for Obama to blame someone and shy away from responsibilities.

Now the question arises who shall be the next President? If we look at the pages of history of the US election pattern, the fact is that from Reagan to Clinton and Obama and others in the past, people have never elected a pessimistic president. The Republican runners, especially Donald Trump often paints the pessimistic picture of the US in his speeches. Even Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist who has mounted a populist challenge to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, seems dissatisfied with the existing government, especially on economic issues.

Published by: Pakistan Observer, January 30, 2016.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.


About the Author

Khalid Hussain Chandio has been working as Research Fellow at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). Previously, he had joined IPRI as Assistant Research Officer (ARO) in October 2007. He was then promoted as Research Officer (RO) in February 2013. Before joining IPRI, he worked in different capacities i.e., Media Analyst and Junior Analyst in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Pakistan, which gave him greater insight in the research and analysis fields. His areas of research include the United States of America (USA) [Its Foreign and Defence Policy, Pak-US Relations, Role of Lobbies in the USA, and Domestic Politics in the USA]. Khalid regularly contributes articles on current strategic issues in English Dailies of Pakistan. He holds M.Phil in International Relations (IR) from School of Politics and International Relations (SPIR), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad, Pakistan and M.Sc in Defence and Strategic Studies (DSS) from the same university.

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