Editorial: State of the Union address

True value of U.S. diplomacy called into question

U.S. President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address yesterday, Japan time, outlining the administration’s policies on domestic and foreign affairs for the coming year.

The president once again emphasized that the U.S. will bring its combat operations in Afghanistan to a close by the end of this year. “America’s longest war will finally be over,” the president said, suggesting he is aware that this year will mark a turning point for the U.S.

The U.S. launched a bombing campaign in Afghanistan not long after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

And in 2003 Iraq was attacked. By the time the U.S. had completely pulled out at the end of 2011, approximately 4,500 U.S. military personnel had been killed in Iraq. Meanwhile an estimated 115,000 Iraqis died during the course of the war.

Naturally, doubts arose among the American public about the “cause” for which the U.S. was fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the wisdom of military intervention in the far-off Middle East.

In this regard, the president said, “I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our military alone.” This statement is highly significant. Mr. Obama also noted, “We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us—large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.” This is one of the lessons of America’s “longest war.”

Bringing the war on terrorism to a close is a pledge Mr. Obama made in his first term. He has finally kept his promise to the people.

But this does not mean that the causes of terrorism have been eliminated. And for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, the wars hardly seem to have ended. Rather, the situation in both countries is becoming more chaotic.

Ironically, terrorist groups in Iraq are believed to have expanded since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and there have been numerous suicide bombings. Afghanistan as well is far from achieving stability.

The U.S. military continues to carry out attacks with drones in neighboring Pakistan. These aircraft are remotely controlled from bases in the U.S., and many civilians have suffered harm as a result of these attacks.

In his speech, Mr. Obama said he has “imposed prudent limits on the use of drones,” apparently in the belief that their use may trigger the ill will of local residents and be counter-productive in the effort to root out terrorism. It is extremely regrettable that this move was not made from a humanitarian standpoint instead.

What has the U.S. military intervention brought about and what has it taken from people? Is the U.S. really looking squarely at reality?

The U.S. does not seem to have determined what the focus of its diplomacy will be after the war in Afghanistan is brought to a close.

In his speech the president stressed that the nation “will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific” and support its allies, but he said nothing about China’s emergence as a military superpower or the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program. He did not mention Japan either.

On the other hand, the president praised his administration’s negotiations with Iran that succeeded in getting that nation to accept limits on its efforts to enrich uranium. “It is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program,” the president said. It’s true that this achievement was the result of cooperative diplomacy.

So, what does Mr. Obama intend to do about his own nation’s nuclear weapons? In that regard, he merely said, “American diplomacy has rallied more than fifty countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.” His State of the Union address four years ago, in which he called for “a world without nuclear weapons,” already seems like something from another era.

Before taking pride in contributing to ensuring the safety of nuclear materials in other countries, the president should recognize more clearly his own country’s responsibility for the current nuclear proliferation.

For U.S. presidents, whose tenure is limited to two four-year terms, the foreign-policy achievements of their second term are said to be their legacy. We would like to see Mr. Obama return to his original objectives.

(Originally published on January 30, 2014)