Roundup: SOTU Foreign Policy Reacts

Though many, including me, have said that Obama didn’t say much in terms of foreign policy (and related policies) last night in his State of the Union, there has been a lot said about the little he did say. Find a sample of those reactions below.

The Cable offers a “translated version” of Obama’s foreign policy points.  James Fallow promises an “Annotated State of the Union” sometime today, but the NY Times beat him to it.

General Impressions

  • Megan McArdle on the Atlantic’s liveblog:

    We also do it because it is right. Best, most passionate line of the night. First glimpse I’ve seen of the Obama of yesteryear.

  • Brian Katulis guestposting on Democracy Arsenal:

    Traditional national security issues represented around 15 percent of the overall speech, which was about the same percentage for national security as President Clinton’s 1994 State of the Union address, and a sharp decline from President Bush’s State of the Union speeches (national security was nearly half of the 2008 Bush address)…What we saw last night was the unveiling of the first 21st century foreign policy framework — one that no longer divides the world between good and evil, but instead recognizes that our fates at home are inextricably linked to what happens overseas, now more than ever and vice versa.


  • CFR’s Michael Levi (scroll down):

    President Obama’s State of the Union address devoted more attention to energy policy than any since President Carter’s addresses in 1978 and 1980 (though President Bush’s 2006 address came close). The sheer weight devoted to the energy and climate agenda will encourage those who feared that the president was preparing to largely abandon that agenda for the rest of this year….I’m skeptical of his claim (which he’s made before) that “the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy”–there are not enough jobs to be had or profits to be made in the energy sector to make the decisive difference to U.S. competitiveness. That rhetorical stretch aside, though, Obama is correct when he calls for the United States to take a leading role in the clean energy race, and asserts that government support will be essential to making that happen.

  • Blake Hounshell in Foreign Policy:

    [A] couple moments caught my eye, for instance the section on energy, where he called for “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country” and said the United States needed to make “tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.” Not exactly the energy policy his supporters thought they voted for.

  • Andrew Sullivan liveblogging:

    His energy program sounds a lot like McCain’s in the campaign: all of the above. And drill, baby, drill! But I love this: clean energy is worth doing whatever you think of climate change. Plenty of conservatives should be able to support this if they could get past their partisanship and bile.

  • Jonathan Chait in The Book:

    Obama suggested that we should embrace alternative energy sources even if you doubt climate science. (I’m pretty sure that, if carbon dioxide were harmless, we’d be better off sticking with the cheap energy.)


  • Megan McArdle on the Atlantic’s liveblog:

    “Foreign policy is not my beat, but props for name-checking Reagan on his efforts to speed nuclear disarmament. Very smart politics, and might quiet the sort of Republicans who view anything except bristling aggression as a wimpy metrosexual cop-out.”

  • Anne Bayefsky in the Corner:

    President Obama announced that in April he will hold another hand-shaking, hot-air-generating “nuclear security summit” — to control American and Russian arms. As for dealing with Iran, he could not manage to muster a single concrete move, just an empty “they too will face growing consequences.”

Human Rights

  • CFR’s Stewart Patrick (scroll down):

    “Another gap was the lack of any significant discussion of human rights and democracy as animating goals of U.S. foreign policy. True, Obama declared that “America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.” But his limited attention to these matters–both in his speech and his presidency to date–is a far cry from the Bush administration’s “freedom agenda.” If George W. Bush presided over what might be termed a Wilsonianism without international institutions, President Obama must beware making the opposite mistake–pursuing a Wilsonianism of multilateral cooperation, but without human rights and democracy promotion.”

Doubling Exports & Trade

  • Daniel Drezner:

    Well, the President said this would happen, so it must be so!!  I would humbly request that the president also decree that the pull of gravity be cut in half.  The government has an equal chance of making that happen.

  • Phil Levy in Shadow Government:

    He seemed on the verge of calling for Congress to pass pending accords with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, which await only an up-down vote. Yet the president veered away into a non sequitur caveat: We must enforce our agreements! That’s true, but it would seem that as the head of the executive branch, he could handle that….He ended the trade section with only a vague call for improved relations. I wish instead he had closed with lines from later in the speech: “Do not walk away… Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job …. “

  • Steve Clemons liveblogging:

    Energy, energy, energy — nuclear, off shore, renewables, clean energy/climate change legislation. Checking off the boxes….We will double exports….and we are going to have a national export initiative! Only way to make it work is to force the Chinese yuan higher…Make trading partners play by the rules — a line stolen from every President since trade agreements came into play.

Defense Spending

  • Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:

    But while Obama did not rule out future defense cuts in the speech, many of these defense wonks could not understand why an effort at deficit reduction would explicitly exclude defense spending. “Defense spending is over half our discretionary spending,” Olson said. “It would be crazy not to include it. It begs the question whether this is a real effort.” 

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

  • Marc Ambinder on the Atlantic’s liveblog:

    “I’ll get to what President Obama said about the policy in a moment. Most remarkable: Secretary of Defense Bob Gates applauded Obama’s words. And Americans saw him applauding, thanks to the director’s cut-aways. Which means that, for the most part, the military is on notice: the policy is ending, and ending very soon.”

  • Andrew Sullivan liveblogging:

    Ending DADT: it’s the right thing to do. But I note that he has committed only to working with Congress and the military to end the ban this year. If he achieves it, I will stand up and cheer. But I have experienced enough crushing disappointments to believe it will actually happen.

  • Attackerman on McCain’s reaction to Obama:

    There is not a single argument for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell that does not reduce to either bigotry or acquiescence to bigotry. Neither is worthy of the American promise. I never thought of McCain as a bigot until I saw how willing he was to traffic in bigotry during his presidential bid. Imagine my horror at seeing it fester after he lost his race.


  • Adam Blickstein reacting in Democracy Arsenal to the Republican response:

    Despite this clear record, McDonnell would have you think that no intelligence was gathered, that the underwear bomber is hiding behind the constitution, and that the men and women on the front lines of the war on terror are either lying or can’t do their job correctly. The bottom line is false and fearmongering rhetoric on issues he seems to know little about will do nothing to actually keep America safe.


  • Gov. Bob McDonnell in the Republican response:

    We applaud President Obama’s decision to deploy 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. We agree that victory there is a national security imperative.  But we have serious concerns over recent steps the Administration has taken regarding suspected terrorists

  • Erik Malmstrom in the Opinionator:

    Tonight, President Obama presented a compelling defense of his strategy to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan….President Obama’s goals are sound. Training Afghan security forces, rewarding good governance, reducing corruption, supporting the rights of all Afghans, and strengthening the international coalition are vital to the fight against Al Qaeda. However, a fatal flaw plagues the counterinsurgency strategy adopted by the president: the more the U.S. and its allies deepen their involvement and commitment in Afghanistan, the more they undercut the Afghan sense of ownership, accountability and sustainability that will determine the long-term fate of the mission. Simply put, his strategy is directly at odds with his goals.

  • Juan Cole in Informed Comment:

    As is often the case, in this paragraph Obama was attempting to please both right and left, with a troop escalation advertised as a mere prelude to withdrawal. But the task, of training an effective 240,000-man AFghanistan National Army is an enormous one and cannot be even partially completed by summer 2011.


  • Juan Cole in Informed Comment:

    These themes may appeal to the Mavis Leno faction of American feminists, but are unconnected to Afghan and Iranian women’s lived reality. The position of women in Afghanistan is better now than under the Taliban, but the new Afghanistan is still an Islamic republic, and president Karzai pandered for votes among the Shiite Hazaras by allowing Shiite law to operate among them on personal status issues, rather than national law. One implication of this step is that Hazara women are now liable to marital rape. So this is the liberation the Obama administration is bringing Afghan women? Moreover, Obama’s escalation of the war will have a negative impact on women and families caught in the crossfire. It is a foolish argument to make because so easily disproven.