State of the Union

January 25, 2012 By Mac Stoddard

President Obama delivered his State of the Union address last night, concentrating mostly on domestic issues, but commenting briefly on the importance of exports and his call to double them in five years.  Agencies funded through the International Affairs Budget like OPIC, USTDA and the Export-Import Bank are important pieces to this goal, as they make “it easier for American businesses to sell products all over the world,” in the President’s words.   Bill Gates released his annual letter last night, encouraging greater innovation in global health and agriculture development, saying “When innovators work on urgent problems and deliver solutions to people in need, the results can be magical.”  You can read his blog post on our website here.

Must Reads

Who’s in the News

A Call for Civility in American Politics (Mickey Edwards and Dan Glickman, Roll Call)

The two of us have known each other for more than 35 years; we were first elected to Congress at the same time, Dan Glickman as a Democrat from Wichita and Mickey Edwards as a Republican from Oklahoma City. We are certainly not poster boys for consensus: it’s an impossible goal in a nation of more than 300 million people with diverse backgrounds, and we differ on a number of important issues.  But we respect the sincerity each of us brings to the political process. Because we were able to start with mutual respect and were therefore civil — even friendly — with each other, even when we disagreed, we were able to accept the hard reality that because neither of us would get everything we wanted on every issue, it was often necessary to compromise in order to keep America’s government, the original “government of the people,” working.

Gates Urges Support for Global Health Programs (Gautam Naik, The Wall Street Journal)

The co-founder and former chief of Microsoft Corp., who has recast himself as a philanthropist, doesn’t want the money for himself. Instead, as the world economic crisis drags into a fifth year and increasingly takes on the pallor of a chronic condition, Mr. Gates frets that some debt-straddled governments will reduce their financial support for health programs in developing countries.  “I don’t see us getting the same type of [aid] increases that we had from 2000 to 2010—that’s just not realistic,” said Mr. Gates in an interview here on Monday. “The question is now whether we can sustain modest increases so that people, for example, who need AIDS drugs, are able to receive them.”

Smart Power

For Egypt’s State Media, the Revolution Has Yet to Arrive (Christopher Walker, Freedom House)

Social media have steadily deepened their imprint on Egyptian society and politics, despite the fact that bloggers and other new media practitioners continue to pay a very high price for their activities. Hopes for an overhaul of state television, however, have been dashed by the military leadership, which is using the medium as an instrument of political manipulation. In this respect, as in some others, Egypt has fallen back into old habits.  Young, tech-savvy activists may consider it a risible anachronism, but (state television) remains an influential news source for a considerable segment of Egyptian society that does not use new media, and that could take comfort in the current leadership’s sanitized message of stability after a year of turmoil.

Politics/Foreign Policy

Obama’s No Apologies Foreign Policy in the State of the Union (James M. Lindsay, Atlantic)

The theme for Barack Obama’s discussion of foreign policy in his 2012 State of the Union address was “No Apology.” After months of listening to his Republican rivals pummel his handling of world affairs, he made clear that he sees foreign policy as one of his strengths and he intends to make the most of it.  Obama both began and ended his speech by touting his foreign policy successes: After nine years of war, no Americans are fighting in Iraq. U.S. troops have begun to come home from Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden no longer threatens the United States. Muammar Qaddafi no longer terrorizes Libya. America’s friendships and alliances around the world are stronger than ever. In all, under his watch, “America is back.”

Obama Stresses Nation Building at Home Over Nation Building Abroad (Eli Lake, Daily Beast)

In his State of the Union address, the president makes clear that nation building overseas no longer is a U.S. priority, suggests American power will not be a decisive factor in events like the Arab Spring, and remains deliberately vague on Iran.  Historians will likely study the Arab Spring for decades, but President Obama began framing the upheaval in the Middle East in his State of the Union tonight. He said, “As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo, from Sana to Tripoli.”  That phrase implies that the American exit from Iraq, a war that President Bush had hoped would birth the modern Arab world’s first democracy, has given way to a new era marked by the fall of dictators.

Libyan government faces growing frustration (Alice Fordham, Washington Post)

As Libya’s interim government struggles to bring security, stability and democracy to the country, a burgeoning protest movement is rocking the fragile nation, venting grudges and challenging the legitimacy of the ruling authorities.  But almost a year later, support for the council, which has shifted its operations to Tripoli, is rapidly evaporating. People complain of shaky security, delays in reopening schools and courts, and flaws in the interim constitution and proposed electoral legislation, as well as the continued presence of Gaddafi-era officials on the council.

U.S. fears serious famine in troubled Sudan region (Andrew Quinn, Reuters)

The United States fears a large-scale famine in Sudan’s restive border states of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and is boosting pressure in Khartoum to accept aid or face a unilateral assistance operation, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.  “We are feeling a lot of pressure, if there’s no international access, to look at ways in which assistance would be carried across the border without their approval,” Princeton Lyman, the Obama administration’s special envoy for Sudan, told reporters.  Lyman cited expert reports which said that the worsening crisis, which has already caused tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, could expand to leave more than a quarter of a million people on the brink of famine by March.

U.S. still taking cautious approach to North Korea aid (John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times)

In mid-December, U.S. negotiators came the closest they’d come in two years to resuming humanitarian food aid for millions of undernourished North Koreans. They pressed North Korean officials in Beijing one day for assurances that any assistance would not be siphoned off by the North’s military. In return, experts say, Washington hoped to draw the government in Pyongyang back to negotiations over an uranium enrichment program North Korea revealed to outsiders in 2010.