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SOTU: Really, Mr. President?

January 26, 2011 ·

The Iraq War isn't wrapping up, the Afghanistan War is failing, and we can't afford either one. If we are ever going to find 15 million jobs, we need to end the wars and cut military spending.

The following is a summary of the analysis IPS fellow Phyllis Bennis made of President Barack Obama's foreign policy comments during the State of the Union address. It's included in the interactive transcript on PBS NewsHour's website.

President Barack Obama
I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

Phyllis Bennis
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, from President Obama’s own party, said just this morning that we have to “look at the war in Afghanistan” when he was asked where he would cut the budget. He’s right.

Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts has called for a very moderate 25 percent cut in the defense budget. If we’re serious about jobs for the 15 million unemployed and health care for still tens of millions without insurance, that 25 percent cut is going to have to be just the first step.

President Barack Obama
Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high; where American combat patrols have ended; violence has come down; and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment
has been kept; the Iraq War is coming to an end.

Of course, as we speak, al-Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us. Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we are disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies. And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.

Phyllis Bennis
But there are 50,000 U.S. troops still occupying Iraq. The "new government" has been formed, but it is widely discredited, riddled with corruption, and incompetent and unable to provide even the basics of electricity, security, jobs.

The war will not be over until all the U.S. troops come home, all the U.S.-paid contractors (those paid by the State Department as well as the Pentagon) are no longer on our payroll, and Iraq's people have a government they choose.

President Barack Obama
We have also taken the fight to al-Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan Security Forces. Our purpose is clear – by preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al-Qaeda the safe-haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Phyllis Bennis
Are we really hearing that the war in Afghanistan – where our own officials admit our top ally is corrupt; where more Afghan civilians and more U.S. troops died last year than ever before; where our other friendly neighbor, Pakistan, continues to shelter guerrilla forces attacking the U.S. across the border – is somehow going well? All our political and military leaders admit this war cannot be won militarily; why do we continue to fight a war as if it could be? We have more than 100,000 U.S. troops occupying Afghanistan, plus another 100,000 or so U.S.-paid mercenaries. They’re not winning. This is a war we cannot win and we cannot afford…

Is President Obama going to say anything about the latest failure in U.S.-brokered peace talks in the Middle East? Or is he just hoping we’re not paying attention, and that we’re fine with paying $30 billion over these ten years directly to the Israeli military, money that could be used for 600,000 new green jobs here at home?

President Barack Obama
We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.

Phyllis Bennis
It’s about time. The long-time dictator in Tunisia, just ousted by a popular revolt, was backed politically and militarily by the U.S. for more than two decades.

President Barack Obama
Tonight, let us speak with one voice in reaffirming that our nation is united in support of our troops and their families. Let us serve them as well as they have served us – by giving them the equipment they need; by providing them with the care and benefits they have earned; and by
enlisting our veterans in the great task of building our own nation.

Our troops come from every corner of this country – they are black, white, Latino, Asian and Native American. They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. And, yes, we know that some of them are gay. Starting this year, no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love. And with that change, I call on all of our college campuses to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC. It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation.

Phyllis Bennis
Let’s really support the troops – let’s end the terrible failing wars in which they are forced to serve, and bring them home. Let’s provide real health care when they return, and rebuild an economy that provides jobs for young people rather than have them drafted by poverty, lack of money for school, lack of jobs, lack of options.