President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union Address this evening, centering his speech around domestic issues and discussing foreign policy only in the most broad brush terms.
He reiterated his pledge to withdraw “combat” troops from Iraq by August, ignoring growing speculation that the rising violence will force a delay. He also insisted “all our troops are coming home,” ignoring Pentagon policy in which officials have repeatedly said that 50,000-75,000 troops will remain and will continue to participate in combat operations “indefinitely” after the August deadline. Even putting this aside, the pledge was misleading, as so far the troops have not been “coming home” but have been sent to Afghanistan to fight in the escalation there.
But perhaps more important was what he didn’t mention. No mentions of Yemen, no mentions of the stalled Mideast peace process. And perhaps most importantly, not a single mention of his failure to close Guantanamo Bay in his first year in office.
Afghanistan was perhaps the biggest surprise however, as it has become the focal point of his administration’s foreign policy and was afforded only a brief rehashing of his escalation speech, complete with his pledge to begin withdrawing troops by July of 2011, a pledge officials have repeatedly said was probably not realistic.
Instead the focus was on the economy, attributing the financial crisis to the growing deficit, and that to his predecessor “not paying for wars.” His solution was a three year spending freeze, which ironically enough explicitly excluded military spending, which will reach record levels of over $700 billion, a massive portion of the budget, this year.
Perhaps the only original foreign policy claim to come out of the speech was his claim that he had captured or killed far more “al-Qaeda fighters and affiliates” last year than were captured or killed in 2008. The claim is impossible to verify, but in both years several fighters were reported killed and later revealed to be alive, and the leadership appears to have been virtually untouched. On the other hand we can say that the Obama Administration launched many more drone strikes in Pakistan in 2009 than the Bush Administration did in 2008, but the vast, vast majority of the victims were innocent civilians, not al-Qaeda.