State of the Union: Obama's national security embellishments


President Barack Obama rests his hand next to a copy of his speech as he delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on February 12, 2013 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.



Though President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech focused primarily on domestic issues, his remarks did touch on several important areas of broader relevance.

But was the information complete? GlobalPost took a closer look at his speech to find any stretched truths and embellishments about national security and US foreign policy — and find, we did.

Border security

On this topic, Obama said:

"We can build on the progress my administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years."

The numbers were accurate, according to Politifact. But Obama's administration doesn't deserve all the credit for the progress.

"The growth in agents began under President George W. Bush. And economic conditions in both the United States and Mexico tend to influence the number of crossings, as does crime," said Politifact, rating Obama's claim "Half True."

Immigration reform

Obama talked about reforming procedures for addressing illegal immigration:

"Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship — a path that includes [undocumented immigrants] passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally."

Obama has frequently spoken about undocumented immigrants — those who aren't in the US legally — "going to the back of the line" behind legal immigrants. However, the Associated Press noted that because those who are in the country illegally have already crossed the border, in reality they're often a step ahead of legal immigrants on the path to citizenship.

Undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants face the same long waits. However, those already in the country are able to stay, work and travel under their "provisional immigrant" status, the AP said.

Cyber security

"Earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyberdefenses by increasing information sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy. Now Congress must act as well, by passing legislation to give our government a greater capacity to secure our networks and deter attacks."

But Obama's confident delivery may have belied the order's signficance. "While it may sound serious, the executive order is not very powerful and was certainly not the administration’s first choice," The New York Times noted

The administration encouraged Congress to pass cybersecurity legislation last year, but Senate Republicans killed the bill, The Times said.


"In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn't agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars' worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They'd devastate priorities like education, energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That's why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as "the sequester," are a really bad idea.

"Now, some in this Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training; Medicare and Social Security benefits."

Everyone seems to agree that the sequester is a bad idea, but who is to blame? This is a tricky one. Both the administration and lawmakers in Congress have been blaming each other for the automatic domestic and defense spending cuts that would go into effect on March 1.

Sequestration has been a special concern for defense officials, since it would usher in $46 billion in cuts to the Pentagon budget over the next seven months.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that the sequester could leave the US military "degraded and unready," according to The Washington Post.

Politico pointed out that though Obama seemed to blame Congress for the looming threat of the sequester, he in fact signed the Budget Control Act, which contained the automatic cuts. In his 2012 book "The Price of Politics," journalist Bob Woodward wrote that the sequester originated from an idea that came from then-Budget Director Jack Lew.

However, Politifact noted that sequestration was meant as a budget threat — designed to put pressure on a Congressional super-committee to come up with a deficit reduction package by Nov. 23, 2011.

"The intention, however, was to force Republicans to negotiate, not to actually put the cuts into effect," said Politifact.

In his book, Woodward wrote, "There would be no chance the Republicans would want to pull the trigger and allow the sequester to force massive cuts to Defense."


"My administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way."

Obama's comments about transparent counterterrorism contradict recently released information about the administration's use of drones and targeted killings of Americans overseas.

As Politico pointed out, while Congressional intelligence committees had access to information on drone strikes, the legal memos behind them were only released by the administration last week — when Obama's former counterterrorism chief John Brennan faced the Senate Intelligence Committee during his confirmation hearing for CIA director.

Drone killings have always been controversial, but they have received renewed attention since the memos were leaked and Brennan was questioned about his unequivocal support of the program.

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who last served as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, has been an outspoken critic of the drone program, saying in 2009, "Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction."

Micah Zenko wrote in Foreign Policy that a vast majority of active-duty and retired military officials share McChrystal's reservations about the Obama administration's use of drones.