Obama Touts Progress in Iran, Afghanistan

But he had little to say about Iraq or Syria.

The entrance to Camp Justice at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
Jan. 28, 2014, 5:30 p.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama used his State of the Uni­on bully pul­pit to sell the re­cent deal world powers struck with Ir­an as a for­eign policy break­through and a chance to avoid a fu­ture con­flict, prom­ised the end of this coun­try’s longest war in Afgh­anistan, and urged Con­gress to close the Guantanamo Bay pris­on — again.

Even as Is­rael and some U.S. law­makers cri­ti­cize the in­ter­im deal with Ir­an as not be­ing strict enough, Obama de­fen­ded the agree­ment that rolled back parts of Tehran’s nuc­le­ar pro­gram “for the very first time in a dec­ade.”

The pres­id­ent ramped up the pres­sure on mem­bers of Con­gress — in­clud­ing Demo­crats — who are seek­ing more sanc­tions against Ir­an as ne­go­ti­ations con­tin­ue. Prom­ising to veto those meas­ures if they make it to his desk now, Obama said, “for the sake of our na­tion­al se­cur­ity, we must give dip­lomacy a chance to suc­ceed.” If that fails, all op­tions, pre­sum­ably in­clud­ing mil­it­ary ac­tion, are still on table. “I will be the first to call for more sanc­tions,” Obama said, “and stand ready to ex­er­cise all op­tions to make sure Ir­an does not build a nuc­le­ar weapon.” This pub­lic prom­ise may sway some of his crit­ics.

Obama also touted his role as war-en­der-in-chief. When he took of­fice, nearly 180,000 Amer­ic­ans were serving in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan; the war in Ir­aq is, of course, over, and with the form­al end of com­bat op­er­a­tions in Afgh­anistan this year, “Amer­ica’s longest war will fi­nally be over.” Obama is con­sid­er­ing leav­ing a small force of U.S. troops for nar­row counter-ter­ror­ism and train­ing mis­sions — if such a deal can be reached with Afgh­anistan. Out­go­ing pres­id­ent Ham­id Kar­zai has so far re­fused to sign the se­cur­ity agree­ment both coun­tries already ne­go­ti­ated.

Obama stressed the need to close the Guantanamo Bay pris­on ““ a goal which has eluded him since the be­gin­ning of his pres­id­ency. “With the Afghan war end­ing, this needs to be the year Con­gress lifts the re­main­ing re­stric­tions on de­tain­ee trans­fers and we close the pris­on at Guantanamo Bay,” Obama said, “be­cause we counter ter­ror­ism not just through in­tel­li­gence and mil­it­ary ac­tion, but by re­main­ing true to our Con­sti­tu­tion­al ideals, and set­ting an ex­ample for the rest of the world.” It ac­tu­ally could hap­pen. The tide may be turn­ing in his fa­vor; the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill Obama signed late last year re­laxed re­stric­tions on trans­fer­ring de­tain­ees to the cus­tody of for­eign coun­tries.

Obama didn’t talk much about Ir­aq, where the news that al-Qaida-linked mil­it­ants took over cit­ies hard won by U.S. troops dur­ing the long war broke the hearts of Mar­ines who fought there. And he glossed over the status of the Syr­i­an con­flict, where the bloody civil war still rages and peace talks ap­pear dead­locked. Obama did say the U.S. will “sup­port the op­pos­i­tion that re­jects the agenda of ter­ror­ist net­works” and stressed the role of Amer­ic­an dip­lomacy in con­vin­cing Syr­ia to elim­in­ate its stocks of chem­ic­al weapons— after the U.S. threatened to use mil­it­ary force.

What We're Following See More »
FIRST CHANGE IN FOUR DECADES
Congress Passes Chemical Regulations Overhaul
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The House on Tuesday voted 403-12 "to pass an overhaul to the nation’s chemical safety standards for the first time in four decades. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act aims to answer years of complaints that the Environmental Protection Agency lacks the necessary authority to oversee and control the thousands of chemicals being produced and sold in the United States. It also significantly clamps down on states’ authorities, in an effort to stop a nationwide patchwork of chemical laws that industry says is difficult to deal with."

Source:
NO MORE INDEPENDENT VOTERS?
GOP Could Double Number of Early Primaries
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Leaders of the Republican Party have begun internal deliberations over making fundamental changes to the way its presidential nominees are chosen, a recognition that the chaotic process that played out this year is seriously flawed and helped exacerbate tensions within the party." Among the possible changes: forbidding independent voters to cast ballots in Republican primaries, and "doubling the number of early states to eight."

Source:
LEVERAGE
Kasich Tells His Delegates to Remain Pledged to Him
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Citing the unpredictable nature of this primary season and the possible leverage they could bring at the convention, John Kasich is hanging onto his 161 delegates. "Kasich sent personal letters Monday to Republican officials in the 16 states and the District of Columbia where he won delegates, requesting that they stay bound to him in accordance with party rules."

Source:
EFFECTIVE NEXT MONTH
House GOP Changes Rules for Spending Measures
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the rules of how the House will consider spending measures to try to prevent Democrats from offering surprise amendments that have recently put the GOP on defense. ... Ryan announced at a House GOP conference meeting Tuesday morning that members will now have to submit their amendments ahead of time so that they are pre-printed in the Congressional Record, according to leadership aides." The change will take effect after the Memorial Day recess.

Source:
LOST BY HALF A PERCENTAGE POINT
Sanders Wants a Recount in Kentucky
6 hours ago
THE LATEST

Bernie Sanders "signed a letter Tuesday morning requesting a full and complete check and recanvass of the election results in Kentucky ... where he trails Hillary Clinton by less than one-half of 1 percent of the vote. The Sanders campaign said it has asked the Kentucky secretary of state to have election officials review electronic voting machines and absentee ballots from last week's primary in each of the state's 120 counties.

Source:
×