American Security, Built to Last

January 25, 2012

Last night, President Obama bookended his State of the Union speech with national security accomplishments, notably the end of the Iraq war and the killing of Osama bin Laden. In between, the president offered a blueprint for rebuilding American strength at home, which is the wellspring of strength abroad. The speech overflowed with optimism about the possibilities and greatness embodied in America. As the president said, “anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

Major General Paul Eaton (ret), NSN senior advisor, recalled President Eisenhower. “Eisenhower’s farewell address delivered January 17, 1961, is known for the phrase military-industrial complex, but its broader appeal was to balance. Ike’s lodestar was ‘balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future.’ Last night, the president presented a plan for such balance, both at home and abroad. Ike would have appreciated such a ‘built to last’ approach.”

Leading from strength — and the results-oriented approach the American public seeks. In the forthcoming issue of TIME magazine, Fareed Zakaria writes, “In the decades after Vietnam, Republicans never missed an opportunity to talk about global dangers—or pound their Democratic adversaries for being weak-kneed appeasers. These days, however, you could listen for hours to Republicans and hear only an occasional, narrow attack on Barack Obama’s handling of American foreign policy. The main reason, of course, is that the economy is dominating the national conversation. But that isn’t the only reason. If Republicans saw opportunities to lash Obama on foreign policy, they would not hold back… The reality is that, despite domestic challenges and limited resources, President Obama has pursued an effective foreign policy. In fact, over the past year, Obama’s policies have come together in a particularly successful manner.”

Michael Hirsh writes in the National Journal today that, “Despite the official derision with which the GOP candidates treat Obama on the campaign trail, a surprising number of Republican foreign-policy professionals — some of whom worked for George W. Bush — agree that the 44th president has been surprisingly impressive on these issues overall.” And as Zakaria states, “Foreign policy is not a popularity contest, but it is historically significant that the Republican Party, which since the Nixon era has enjoyed a clear advantage on foreign policy issues, will enter the 2012 race without any such boost. That may be partly because of the failures of George W. Bush, but it is also because Obama has handled the terrain deftly.” [Fareed Zakaria, 1/30/12. National Journal, 1/25/12]

Investing in America’s strength. Last night, the president laid the foundations for strength at home, which is the wellspring of American power in the world. As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey explained earlier this month, “[W]e are only as strong as those three pillars – diplomatic, military and economic – can interrelate with each other to achieve a common outcome. And if one of those pillars is weakened, they’re all weakened.” Last night, President Obama laid out a blueprint for rebuilding America’s economy – each step of which is integrally linked to our ability to compete abroad; lure talent and resources here; and cooperate with others to build partnerships and markets.

Economy, manufacturing and jobs. “So we have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing back.  But we have to seize it.  Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple:  Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.” [Barack Obama, 1/24/12]

Innovation. “After all, innovation is what America has always been about.  Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses.  So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed… Don’t let other countries win the race for the future.  Support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.” [Barack Obama, 1/24/12]

Education. “Higher education can’t be a luxury -– it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.” [Barack Obama, 1/24/12]

Immigration. “[L]et’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country.” [Barack Obama, 1/24/12]

Energy. “This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.  A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.” [Barack Obama, 1/24/12]

Infrastructure. “Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure.  So much of America needs to be rebuilt.  We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges; a power grid that wastes too much energy; an incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.” [Barack Obama, 1/24/12]

[Martin Dempsey, 1/12/12]

Rejecting a message of decline. Dan Drezner of Tuft University’s Fletcher School writes in a recent post at Foreign Policy Magazine titled, “Predictions about the death of American hegemony may have been greatly exaggerated”: “Let’s face it, there’s a general anxiety about the future of America… To be honest, this sounds like a lot of pious baloney.” He cites a recent article in International Security by Michael Beckley, a research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, that says, “The United States is not in decline; in fact, it is now wealthier, more innovative, and more militarily powerful compared to China than it was in 1991.”

In last night’s speech, President Obama outlined America’s vital role in the world and his confidence that America will continue this leadership: “From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world who are eager to work with us.  That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin, from Cape Town to Rio, where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years.”  [Dan Drezner, 1/22/12. Michael Beckley, Winter 2011/2012. Barack Obama, 1/24/12]

What We’re Reading

U.S. commandoes freed two hostages, including one American, in a predawn raid in Somalia.

Tensions between Pakistan’s civilian government and military are apparently thawing.

The Arab League is looking to the United Nations for a solution on Syria.

Violent unrest is spreading throughout Tibet.

Libya’s defense minister met with tribal leaders from Bani Walid, which was taken over by Qaddafi loyalists.

The World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland started off with anxiety about the eurozone.

The Palestinian president declared that exploratory talks with Israel to resume peace negotiations are over.

Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov was cleared to run for president against Vladimir Putin in March elections.

Japan reported its first trade deficit since 1980.

The Zetas cartel overtook the Sinaloa cartel as the largest drug cartel in Mexico.

Commentary of the Day

Michael Wahid Hanna outlines the new Egyptian government’s challenges moving forward.

Jimmy Kainja asks if Africa is in need of an Arab Spring.

Andrew Exum explores whether counterinsurgency was the appropriate operational response to the violence in Iraq.

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