President Barack Obama kicked off his third State of the Union speech on a foreign policy note. A savvy decision, he wasted no time in pointing out that for “the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.” He ended his lengthy speech by coming full circle, again praising the military. In an election year, foreign policy is Obama’s big reach across the aisle, a diversion for Republicans who criticize his domestic record.
Frankly, bookending his speech with his big achievements abroad is smart. Who is going to argue with praising the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, or the Navy SEALs who carried it out? Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels even began his response acknowledging it: “Republicans tonight salute our president, for instance, for his aggressive pursuit of the murderers of 9/11 …”
The end of Obama’s address came back to bin Laden, and was laced with the kind of sentimental rhetoric he is known for. Speaking about one of the Navy SEALs involved in that mission, he said, “One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job.” More than once, he used this accomplishment to convey a message of unity, adding later on: “This nation is great because we built it together.”
All of the speech was not campaigning, but the foreign policy parts certainly were. They aimed to please, to finally get those Republicans to stand up and applaud. Obama’s address to Congress is an indication of how he’ll be trying to woo voters as this year goes on. His approval rating has been higher for foreign policy than for domestic policy, and he will be sure to use this to his advantage.
Obama is a president running for reelection in a tensely partisan climate. He has a solid record with the bin Laden raid, the war in Iraq, and Libya. These accomplishments also lend themselves well to emotional, grandiose rhetoric. Look for them on the campaign trail this year.
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