January 25th, 2012
09:50 AM ET

Gauging foreign policy in Obama's address

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter. This piece was originally published at CFR.org.

By James M. Lindsay, CFR.org

The theme for Barack Obama's discussion of foreign policy in his 2012 State of the Union address was "No Apology." After months of listening to his Republican rivals pummel his handling of world affairs, he made clear that he sees foreign policy as one of his strengths and he intends to make the most of it.

Obama both began and ended his speech by touting his foreign policy successes: After nine years of war, no Americans are fighting in Iraq. U.S. troops have begun to come home from Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden no longer threatens the United States. Muammar Qaddafi no longer terrorizes Libya. America's friendships and alliances around the world are stronger than ever. In all, under his watch, "America is back."

In an implicit recognition of Republican claims that he is more interested in apologizing for America's mistakes than advancing its interests, Obama dismissed talk of U.S. decline, and embraced American exceptionalism.

Obama highlighted the sweeping changes that have rocked the Middle East and North Africa over the past year. He declared that the United States had a "huge stake" in the region's transformation, said his administration would stand "against violence and intimidation," and suggested that in Syria the Assad regime's days were numbered. But the president offered no specific plans or initiatives to promote the forces of liberty and democracy in the region, and he stopped well short of pledging to unseat the government in Damascus.

Israel merited only a brief mention, but it was forceful and to the point. The United States and Israel are enjoying their closest military cooperation ever.

Obama singled out Iran when he vowed to act decisively against regimes that threatened America's citizens, friends, and interests. He repeated his commitment "to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon" and insisted that all options were on the table. But he was also careful to offer Tehran an olive branch, saying that it was within Iran's power to reach a peaceful resolution of the dispute.

Obama glossed over other potential threats to American security. He said nothing about China's growing military might or the increasingly hostile rhetoric coming from Russia. He said nothing about North Korea. The challenges that remain in Afghanistan went unmentioned.

But this State of the Union address was never intended to be a policy speech. It was instead the opening salvo in his 2012 presidential campaign. And Obama's message to his Republican opponents was that he has no intention of running away from his foreign policy record. He is instead going to run on it.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of James M. Lindsay. Read more at CFR.org.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. George Patton

    I didn't watch the speech as I already knew was Obama was going to say. I figured that he'd be bragging himself hoase over his foreign policy "successes" overseas. After all, we spend trillions of dollars on our military year after year and thus breaking our own economy!!!

    January 25, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  2. patod

    from what i read/hear, no matter what he does, Obama will never receive kudos from the republicans. they will always find something he has done wrong. the only really big mistake obama seems to have made was spending so much time during his first year in office on the healthcare plan rather than working on job creation immediately; but, who knows, he still may not have gotten anything done. my question to republicans is - if lower taxes on business has not worked in the last 4-5 years, what makes them think that it will work now? p.s., i thought it was very cool that while he was giving the address the seal team was rescuing americans (and one danish) who had been kidnapped.

    January 25, 2012 at 10:36 am |
  3. Tj Duebner

    I love it when girls prank call me and i have to my mom involved. She likes to threaten to call the police.

    January 25, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
    • Tj Duebner

      Ohh i forgot to say i love bowling. I really look so hot in the uniform. I have a small head and my top score in bowling is a 69.

      January 25, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
      • USMC Forever

        What, Tj Duebner, has any of this senseless mumbo-jumbo have to do with Barack Obama? You might as well give up since nobody here is laughing at any of it! We're talking about Obama and what a joke of a president he is!!!

        January 25, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
  4. j. von hettlingen

    Obama appeared self-assertive and spoke well. He showed his adversaries that he's determined to stay in office and not going to budge.

    January 25, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • Assad Malaki

      Funny, the dictator of Syria is taking that exact same stance... He too is determined to stay in office and not going to budge. Thanks for showing me the correlation.

      January 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  5. truindep

    and Iran returned the drone(s)By Shirzad Bozorgmehr reporting from Tehran, Iran An Iranian non-profit company says it will honor U.S. President Barack Obama's request that Iran return a drone that crashed there last year. But instead of the actual drone, the company says it will send miniature toy versions. A lot of them. "We plan to send a full squadron of 12 to the White House for President Obama as a present," said Reza Kioumarsi, a spokesman for the Aaye Art Group, a Tehran-based non-profit, non-governmental company that makes novelty items.

    January 27, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  6. eman

    Strangest way to the marriage application


    January 27, 2012 at 6:07 pm |

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