State of the Union Addresses historically are speeches filled with platitudes, reiteration of already known legislative proposals, praise for previous accomplishments, pledges to work together, as well as a few digs at a President’s opponents. They tend to be full of the pomp and formality which Washington pulls off so well. As for substance, innovation, creativity, and excitement people should look elsewhere.
In examining the international field alone, in one-year President Trump has successfully ruptured or at least shaken many relationships. It would not be an understatement to suggest that America’s European allies have been nonplussed at how the President has treated them, both nationally as well as their leaders individually. Were it not for the extremely effective global defense force, unified commands, and joint strategies the relationships would be in even worse shape. Trump may want our allies to pay more of the costs of defense and that appears to be moving slowing ahead. Fortunately, it has not affected force preparedness.
The President has curried favor and extended himself more with authoritarian Eastern European leaders than he has with America’s friends. The Chinese appear to be mystified with Trump’s conduct. The on-going love affair with the Russians takes the discussion to an entire other level. Despite signing the sanctions bill into law which was to have taken effect yesterday, Trump once again concocted a new rationalization as to why he should not implement it against the Russians. This despite the fact that Putin should be taken to task for his persistent violations of foreign military arms sales.
As a result of his continuing bullying of North Korea, Trump now has lost Victor Cha as his proposed nominee to be the new Ambassador to Seoul. The President will accept increased sanctions on North Korea as well as Iran but Russia—the real culprit—continues to run free. (The truly astonishing observation–leaving aside the Russia investigation—is that it was always the Republicans who had been the proponents of a hard line policy against Russia.)
At the global level, Trump removed the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and he is seeking to renegotiate all or part of the NAFTA agreement before considering whether to extend it. He also withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
It is not clear to what extent radical Islam has been curtailed in the Middle East or may be taking a hiatus. The battles in Yemen and in Afghanistan continue. Pakistan seems to be eerily calm at the moment. Syria continues to be in turmoil but Trump has permitted Putin to reign supreme there. This in fact might be the only issue Netanyahu might have with the President, although Trump may well have given the Israelis virtual carte blanche to respond to any Syrian/Iranian threat; assuming that the Russians will not be directly involved.
There was a time where foreign powers listened very closely to see if the President mentioned them in the State of the Union Address. It is quite likely that President Trump will only boast about how he wowed the world once again at Davos, and leave out any discussion of America’s friends and enemies out of his speech.
So, barring a surprise, listening to the President is unlikely to signal anything new.