Will Obama Say Anything Interesting About Foreign Policy Tonight?

Later today, President Obama
will give his latest State of Union address, which progressives

are hoping
will include plenty of liberal rhetoric and

Domestically, there are plenty of policy areas Obama will
undoubtedly mention. The Obamacare website rollout was a disaster,
although as
notes, “The speech is coming at the right time for the
White House. HealthCare.gov is largely fixed for consumers.”

In the 2013
State of the Union
 address Obama said that “right
now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, faith
communities — they all agree that the time has come to pass
comprehensive immigration reform.” Given the current state of
immigration reform legislation, it shouldn’t be surprising if Obama
revisits the issue.

This morning, it was reported that Obama is expected to announce
a raise in the
minimum wage
for new federal contract workers.

While there are plenty of domestic issues for Obama to mention
this evening, foreign policy will also be addressed. Since the last
State of the Union address the NSA revelations have done damage to
America’s relationships abroad, Al Qaeda-linked groups have been
playing an increasingly significant role in Iraq as well as Syria,
a nuclear deal with Iran has been agreed to, there was a coup in
Egypt, the crisis in the Central African Republic worsened, and
protests erupted in Ukraine.

Some of these are new developments, but others, such as the
situations in Syria, Iran, and post-Mubarak Egypt have been
mentioned in previous State of the Union addresses.


In his
2012 State of the Union
, Obama mentioned Syria once:

As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across
the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana’a
to Tripoli.  A year ago, Qaddafi was one of the world’s
longest-serving dictators -– a murderer with American blood on his
hands. Today, he is gone. And in Syria, I have no doubt that the
Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be
reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied.  

The Assad regime has not discovered that “the forces of change
cannot be reversed,” and
among opposition forces has only helped the

In the 2013 State of the Union, the situation in Syria got some
more attention than it did in the 2012 State of the Union:

We’ll keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its
own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights
of every Syrian.  And we will stand steadfast with Israel in
pursuit of security and a lasting peace.  

Since making the above statement Obama’s “red
was crossed, providing what some might have hoped would
present the president with an opportunity to “keep the pressure on
a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people.” However, rather
than the strikes on Syria some were hoping for, the U.S.
struck a deal with Russia
relating to the Assad regime’s
chemical weapons.

Unsurprisingly, the ongoing Syria peace talks
look unlikely
to produce any sort of peace deal that the Assad
regime, the represented opposition, and international
representatives will agree to, let alone be able to enforce. Given
the situation in Syria and the state of the peace talks, don’t
expect more than condemnation of the Assad regime from Obama


In the 2012 State of the Union Obama said the following about

And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who
threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests.  Look
at Iran.  Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was
once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now
stands as one.  The regime is more isolated than ever before;
its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they
shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.

Let there be no doubt:  America is determined to prevent
Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off
the table to achieve that goal.  (Applause.)

But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and
far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations,
it can rejoin the community of nations.

In the 2013, the same year that the U.S. and other members of
the so-called P5+1 group agreed to a deal
relating to Iran’s nuclear program, Iran was only briefly mentioned
in the State of the Union:

Of course, our challenges don’t end with al Qaeda.  America
will continue to lead the effort to prevent the spread of the
world’s most dangerous weapons.  The regime in North Korea
must know they will only achieve security and prosperity by meeting
their international obligations.  Provocations of the sort we
saw last night will only further isolate them, as we stand by our
allies, strengthen our own missile defense and lead the world in
taking firm action in response to these threats.  

Likewise, the leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the
time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united
in demanding that they meet their obligations, and we will do what
is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.

Although the deal with Iran is a far from perfect step in the
right direction, Obama may urge legislators not to impose any
further sanctions, which could jeopardize the deal agreed to last
November. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Angus King Jr. (I- Maine)
wrote in
The New York Times
yesterday that,

For us to impose additional sanctions under these circumstances
(or threaten to impose additional sanctions) could be an “I told
you so” moment for these hard-liners, providing the very excuse
they’re looking for to kill the negotiations and, with them, what
is probably the best chance we have of resolving this incredibly
dangerous situation without resorting to military action.


Since Obama’s 2013 State of the Union there has been a coup in
Egypt, which was followed by a
brutal crackdown
on supporters of ousted President Morsi.
Recently, Egyptians
overwhelmingly approved
a constitution in a referendum that the
Muslim Brotherhood urged its members to boycott.

In the 2012 State of the Union Egypt was not mentioned, and in
the 2013 State of the Union the country was mentioned once:

In defense of freedom, we’ll remain the anchor of strong
alliances from the Americas to Africa; from Europe to Asia.
 In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they
demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to
democracy.  (Applause.)  

We know the process will be messy, and we cannot presume to
dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt, but we can —
and will — insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all

It shouldn’t be surprising if Obama speaks out again for a
transition to democracy in Egypt, but don’t expect any changes to
foreign aid or diplomatic status to be announced.

Al Qaeda

In last year’s State of the Union address Obama mentioned
Al Qaeda, and described the organization that carried out the 9/11
attacks as “a shadow of its former self.” However, since that
speech the Al Qaeda-linked group the Islamic State in the Iraq and
the Levant seized the Iraqi cities of
Fallujah and Ramadi
and have been fighting opposition groups in
Syria. Obama may want to elaborate on the threat of Islamic
terrorism given the situation in Syria and Iraq, his comments last
year about Al Qaeda didn’t specifically mention Iraq or Syria:

It’s true, different al Qaeda affiliates and extremist groups
have emerged — from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa.  The
threat these groups pose is evolving.  But to meet this
threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and
daughters abroad or occupy other nations.  Instead, we’ll need
to help countries like Yemen, and Libya, and Somalia provide for
their own security, and help allies who take the fight to
terrorists, as we have in Mali.  And where necessary, through
a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action
against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans


It will be surprising if Snowden’s NSA revelations do not get
mentioned this evening, especially considering what Obama said in
the 2013 State of the Union.

Last year, Obama announced that talks between the U.S. and the
European Union would begin on “a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade
and Investment Partnership.”

However, reporting on the NSA’s snooping on European citizens
and officials understandably put a dent in

trade negotiations
. Obama has sought
to reassure allied leaders
that he will not spy on them, and
may use tonight’s State of the Union as an opportunity to
demonstrate his commitment to getting the terms of a trade deal
with the E.U. finalized.

I and others from Reason will be livetweeting the State
of the Union tonight, click
to follow along.

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