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Last night, Barack Obama delivered his third State of the Union address. While the speech focused on the economy, it was bookended by twin references to the Navy SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The President’s speech reminded Americans of the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and of draw-downs in Afghanistan. In a populist tone, Obama addressed many of the economic concerns plaguing the nation. He spoke of reinvigorating American manufacturing, aggressive tax reform, the daunting cost of higher education, and reforming American energy policy. His call for long-overdue, comprehensive immigration reform was encouraging, though the contradictions between last night’s rhetoric and the President’s previous actions were apparent. Promising to sign the DREAM Act, or a similar piece of legislation, he also reminded Americans that “there are more boots on the border than ever before.” There are also more deportations than ever before.
Obama clearly intended to present himself as a strong Commander-In-Chief, in an effort to refute Republican charges of his weakness in foreign affairs. He warned that he would “take no options off the table” to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Reference to “our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security” earned him a bi-partisan standing ovation. He used cavalier, aggressive language in his allusions to ongoing drone strikes, saying, “from Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.” In a move to circumvent charges of anti-Americanism, he said, “ anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” While this is clever election-year rhetoric, it ignores the facts on the ground: American foreign policy, including drone strikes, unilateral support for Israel, and a history of hypocrisy regarding democracy promotion, tarnishes the US’ reputation in the eyes of Arab and Muslim peoples.
Those concerned with civil liberties, America’s relationship with the Arab World, and the issue of Palestine found little to celebrate in the President’s address. Also striking were the issues of which President Obama made no mention, including his Administration’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay, theassassination via drone attack of American citizen Anwar al-Aulaqi and his family, and his recent signing of the National Defense Authorization Act, which grants the government right to indefinitely detain American citizens. President Obama acknowledged that “a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa.” It is up to us to remind him, and all of our elected representatives, that change is also needed here at home.
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