It’s traditional that the last State of the Union Address of a first-term president shapes the contours of his coming campaign, and President Obama’s fit that pattern. He knew that many people who voted for him in 2008 did so based on his commitment to end the war in Iraq, so highlighting that made perfect sense. But he was way wrong in claiming that the war in Iraq has made the United States “more respected around the world.”
In fact, the war in Iraq, launched illegally and continued in the face of U.S., Iraqi, and global opposition, brought more discredit and outrage upon the United States than almost any recent policy. And the president made his claim just hours after a military court decided that the commander of the U.S. military platoon that had murdered 24 Iraqi civilians in cold blood in Haditha in 2005, in one of the worst incidents of a war filled with horror, would not serve one single day in jail.
President Obama mentioned cutting the military budget by half a trillion, and that’s important. Even if it was pretty misleading, since that amount is spread over ten years and amounts to only around $50 billion each year — in annual budgets that routinely top a trillion dollars.
And since this was pretty obviously the beginning of the 2012 campaign, maybe it wasn’t surprising to hear President Obama repeat that he will “take no options off the table” to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. He means the military option of course. But wouldn’t it have been more honest and more helpful in calming the already dangerously overheated rhetoric, if he had added “of course my own Secretary of Defense, and our latest National Intelligence Estimate, representing the consensus of all 16 of U.S. intelligence agencies, agree that there is no evidence Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon — and that we don’t even have evidence that Iran has made a decision to try.”
It would be been more statesmanlike. But perhaps not so great for the campaign. And what is the State of the Union Address for, anyway?