State of the Union: Obama’s top 5 foreign policy messages


US President Barack Obama addresses the nation on Jan. 24, 2012.

President Barack Obama focused his 2012 State of the Union address on domestic issues. He outlined a vision for America’s future that includes “an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers and a renewal of American values.” But in a globalized world, the impact of this “blueprint for an economy that’s built to last” will be felt outside the United States.

Here are the top five foreign policy messages the president delivered in Tuesday’s speech.

1. Change in the Middle East is inevitable

Noting that Muammar Gaddafi was alive and ruling Libya this time last year, Obama said, “In Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change can’t be reversed, and that human dignity can’t be denied.”

“How this incredible transformation will end remains uncertain,” he added. “But we have a huge stake in the outcome. And while it is ultimately up to the people of the region to decide their fate, we will advocate for those values that have served our own country so well. We will stand against violence and intimidation. We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings – men and women; Christians, Muslims, and Jews. We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.”

2. The Obama administration hasn’t given up on Iran

The US has led the push to isolate Iran and cripple its economy with sanctions, Obama told the nation. “Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal,” Obama said.

However, he added, “a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.”

3. The US is stepping up its game against manufacturers abroad

The US is on track to double exports by 2015, Obama said. “Soon,” he observed, “there will be millions of new customers for American goods in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea. Soon, there will be new cars on the streets of Seoul imported from Detroit, and Toledo, and Chicago.”

Obama said the federal government is increasing efforts to level the playing field against foreign manufacturers, and announced the creation of a new Trade Enforcement Unit that will conduct more inspections to prevent counterfeit goods from entering the US. “I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules,” he said. “We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration – and it’s made a difference. Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. But we need to do more. It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It’s not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.”

Obama also urged Congress to reform the tax code to stop rewarding businesses that outsource jobs overseas and start incentivizing companies to create jobs in the US. “We can’t bring back every job that’s left our shores,” he said. “But right now, it’s getting more expensive to do business in places like China. Meanwhile, America is more productive.”

4. Reducing US dependence on foreign oil is a priority

American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years, and the US relied less on foreign oil in 2011 than in any of the past 16 years, Obama said. To keep the momentum going, the president said he was asking his administration to open more than 75 percent of the country’s potential offshore oil and gas resources.

Obama also said that developing other sources of energy, namely natural gas and clean energy, was critical. “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy,” Obama said. “I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany.”

The president explained his vision for America includes “a future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world.”

5. The US still matters in world affairs

“Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” Obama said. “That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world, all of whom are eager to work with us. That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin; from Cape Town to Rio; where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years. Yes, the world is changing; no, we can’t control every event. But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs – and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way."

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