Briefs on the SOTU Address
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The President was at his “stump” speech best; positive, affirming, enthusiastic, and clearly reaching above the heads of Congress. All that effort could get you re-elected, but he has run his last campaign. In fact, the President needs to get the American people to translate any response they might have had to the speech to improved poll numbers; that might well be the only sure way that the President will get some movement on the Hill.
Isolationism all the Way
The President opened his speech with a reiteration of his pledge to bring the Afghanistan war to its conclusion by the end of 2014. It was greeted by an enthusiastic response from the Congress which continues to confirm that they support a reduction of the U.S. presence around the world. Congress and the President are now totally together on this point, although not necessarily arriving at this vantage point with the same philosophy. It affirms the growing sense of isolationism in the country among all political persuasions.
The President continued to commit himself to the creation of a Palestinian state beside Israel—and here is the key that Netanyahu wanted and Abbas has rejected—a Jewish State. No equivocating here by the President. He placated the pro-Israel hawks in the U.S. and the Netanyahu Government which has laid down this marker to the Palestinians.
Having thrown the Israelis what they wanted on one key negotiating issue, the President told AIPAC and its pro-Israel friends in Washington that any increased sanctions legislation at this time will need to have enough support to over-ride his veto. The President told the Israelis and AIPAC to play tough if you wish, but this Administration is going to permit the agreed upon six month testing period to work before it will consider upgrading sanctions.
The President did not throw much hope to the Syrian rebels or any of the other anti-authoritarian forces in the region. He sympathized with their pro-democracy direction, but showed no American enthusiasm to engage directly—non-diplomatically—in their fight. He is committed to fight terrorism, but not with money or forces, only with talk.
The time allocation for a speech that went on (with pomp and applause) for almost 75 minutes—and exempting the bravery, praise, and confidence expressed for America’s courageous military—the ten minutes allocated to foreign policy by the President confirms the intention of the President and the Congress to focus on the broad domestic agenda.