By Ali Younes – Washington DC
For those who had hoped that President Obama’s first State of the Union speech would bring some vigor to troubled Middle East peace process, or bringing a new strategy to close Guantanamo Bay they were dealt a major disappointment in last night speech. In fact, these two issues were the furthest thing on Obama mind during his 70- minute long speech, the longest of all his speeches ever since he held a public office. President Obama used his first State of Union speech to address the mounting pressure on his administration to stabilize the economy amid a historic 10% high unemployment rate for the last month of December and a yearly average of 9.3% high a rate that was not seen since Regan was in office in 1982 and 1983.
The speech, understandably so, was geared toward domestic audience. This is because the president had taken the helm of the presidency amid a steep recession and found his presidency plunged in worsening economic crises in the banking industry and other key industries such as the car and health insurance industries.
The tone of speech was not Obama’s usual. It was deliberately subdued, a departure from his oratorical style on the campaign trail. Perhaps Obama’s advisers were careful not to set the American people’s expectations too high with another ornamental speech that focuses more on style and delivery and less on substance and reality.
Reality, as it came to be was president Obama’s biggest enemy during his year in office. Obama therefore was careful to lay the blame for his troubles on his immediate predecessor former president George w. Bush. When president Bush took office from the Clinton administration in 2000 “ America had a $200 billion budget surplus, by the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $ 1 trillion and a projected deficit of $ 8 trillion over the next decade” said president Obama.
The political and economic setbacks that faced his young presidency were the reasons for Obama’s modest goals of trimming the budget deficit by freezing spending in some areas of the discretionary spending programs which are part of the budget but are not mandatory spending programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The stunning loss of Kennedy-held democratic seat in Massachusetts which reduced the democrats filibuster-proof of 60 seats to 59 in the senate dimmed the president’s hopes of passing his hallmark health care bill in the Congress. In addition, losing two gubernatorial races in crucial states of Virginia and New Jersey made the president and his party seem all too vulnerable, facing a reinvigorated and a hyper active conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Foreign policy issues were hardly mentioned in this speech. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were mentioned in relation to their impact on domestic issues and war spending and expanding programs to help veterans a bipartisan issue popular among both democrats and republicans. The president remarks about Iran mentioning it by its official name “The Islamic Republic of Iran” which is significant in that it denotes legitimacy as oppose to George Bush’s combative rhetoric against Iran who had never called it by its official name. This gesture will not go unnoticed in Tehran which signals that Obama is still hoping for a peaceful end to Iran’s nuclear program. To balance his gesture to the Iranian government, Obama signaled his support to the Iranian opposition which has been demonstrating in the streets on Teheran in protest of last year’s election. The signal to the Iranian opposition is not just a mere act of goodwill on part of the Obama, but rather a form of pressure on Teheran by recognizing the street protests as legitimate struggle for democracy and freedom which might embolden the opposition and weaken the rulers of Tehran.
As for the Palestinian issue, president Obama’s failure to pressure Israeli government which enjoys wide support among the Republicans and American conservatives, to halt settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem as a condition to re-start the defunct peace process, was the reason that president Obama omitted this from his speech and not wanting to ruffle the feathers of Israeli supporters on his first State of the Union speech.
– Ali Younes is a writer and Middle East analyst based in Washington DC. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.