- By Will Inboden
Signals from the White House indicate that President Obama’s State of the Union (SOTU) address tomorrow night will focus heavily on domestic and economic policy. Understandably so, as domestic and economic issues spurred the GOP’s massive Congressional gains, and remain the nation’s predominant concerns. The SOTU is President Obama’s best platform to regain the political initiative and point the country towards his preferred course over the next two years.
Yet the president should not neglect national security policy in the SOTU, for two reasons. First, while the American people are his primary audience, we are not his only audience. Foreign leaders — friends, foes, and fence-sitters alike — will be watching keenly for signs from Obama about strategic priorities and U.S. resolve. Second, while domestic and economic policy has thus far defined this presidency, the future by its nature will surprise, and national security could reemerge as a defining concern.
Here are three issues President Obama should address tomorrow night:
Afghanistan. The administration continues to send conflicting and conflicted signals about the Afghanistan war and the meaning of July 2011 as a "drawdown" date. As Peter Feaver has argued, the White House’s rhetorical neglect of Afghanistan threatens to erode tenuous public support. Meanwhile, key actors — ranging from our NATO allies, India, and the Afghan people and government to Pakistan and the Taliban — all remain uncertain about the United States’ commitment to success in the Afghan mission. And all will in their own ways hedge accordingly. The Congressional audience tomorrow night will be essential for supporting and continuing to fund the war effort — and needs to know it is a priority for the president. Most important, U.S. forces currently deployed in theater need to hear from their commander-in-chief that he is resolved to see their efforts through.
Iran. When the governments of Israel, the United States, and Iran all say the same thing, it is probably true. So it seems to be the case that the Stuxnet virus has degraded Iran’s uranium enrichment capability and thus delayed the clock on its nuclear weapons program. Yet if anything these setbacks have only exacerbated Iranian intransigence at the negotiating table. And a perpetual concern with the cagey Iranian regime is the "unknown unknowns" — such as the possibility of other uranium enrichment sites, as yet undiscovered and undeclared. In short, the Iranian nuclear program remains a front-burner concern, and how it is handled will define in part the Obama administration’s foreign policy legacy. President Obama should make clear tomorrow night to the United States’ P-5 plus 1 partners, to Israel, and to the Iranian regime that he remains resolved that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons. And as February’s anniversary of the Iranian revolution approaches, he should also make clear to the Iranian people that the United States supports their desire for liberty.
Al Qaeda. This year will witness the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Remarkably, al Qaeda has not since succeeded in another large-scale attack on U.S. soil. As unfathomable as this fact would have seemed in the weeks following 9/11, it is no accident but rather stems from the vigilance of the Bush administration and subsequently the Obama administration in pursuing aggressive counterterrorism policies. Policies which, as Stephen Carter of Yale Law School argues in his most recent book, the Obama team may have denounced during their campaign but have adopted and expanded while in office. Yet Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri remain at large, al Qaeda remains viable and dangerous, and threats continue against the United States and our allies. President Obama should remind the nation that while we are safer we are not safe, and should remind al Qaeda’s leadership that our commitment to defeat it remains undiminished.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at email@example.com.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |