January 25, 2012
As the US presidential race picks up pace ahead of November’s vote, Barack Obama is trying to ratchet up support for re-election. In his third State of the Union speech, he pledged another program for change.
President Obama’s Tuesday night address to Congress was his final State of the Union speech before he runs for re-election. It was crafted by the White House to set the tone for the 2012 congressional session, and for the re-election campaign. Obama’s goal was to highlight his achievements, and lay out his promises.
The president started his address praising those who fought in Iraq, “generation of heroes” who “have made the United States safer and more respected around the world.”
Indeed, the speech was full of success stories.
“For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al-Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated. The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home,” the president said.
With the US economy still on the ropes, the president pledged a new plan for change, promising tax reforms through increasing taxes for richer Americans.
“It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts and no copouts. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody,” Obama said.
Although unemployment in the country remains high at 8.5 per cent, the president said the economy was recovering from the two-year recession.
“I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place,” Obama said.
Many experts say social inequality in America is currently at a level unseen since the Great Depression. The top one per cent of the wealthiest in the country is making a killing, while the middle class is shrinking dramatically. And that gap is getting wider.
Obama pledged no tax increase for those earning under $250,000, but said that those who make more than $1 million a year, should not pay less than 30% in taxes.
The speech was highly motivational, and full of good intentions. Yet in the past, almost all the US president’s major economic initiatives, such as last year’s Jobs Act, have got bogged down in Congress. Which perhaps led some to say that he might be saying all the right words, but they may not be necessarily be followed by deeds.
“Every time they raise taxes on the wealthy, they also give incentives to big corporations, which are often owned by the same wealthy people or supported and financed by these big banks. So, they may raise taxes, but then they put loopholes in, giving incentives [for business]. It’s the opposite to what we should be doing. We should be cutting taxes across the board, but also cutting incentives for business,” Libertarian Party activist Wes Benedict told RT.
Another of Obama’s economic plans is strengthening the position of US manufacturers on the world market, where the dominant position has long been occupied by companies from the Asia-Pacific region, mainly from China.
“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 said.
According to the president, over a thousand Americans have their jobs today because the US “stopped a surge in Chinese tires”.
“We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration,” he said, pointing out that it had “made a difference.”
“But we need to do more,” Obama said.
“I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China. There will be more inspections,” he stated.
Obama called US workers “the most productive on Earth”, saying Congress should make sure that “no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing financing or new markets like Russia.”
US out of Iraq only to start another war?
On the foreign policy front, Obama built his previous campaign on promises to end wars, but while he pulled troops out of Iraq and started scaling down the war with Afghanistan with a pledge to bring all troops home by 2014, America’s wars have not stopped.
The US got involved and played a key role in the war in Libya last year with the stated aim of bringing democracy.
With Syria, Americans once again appear to be struggling for justice and democracy in the Middle East. As Western powers look for solutions to the crisis in Syria, Obama says that while it is up to the people of the Middle East to decide their own fate, the United States will oppose “violence and intimidation” and stand for the “rights and dignity of all human beings.”
“I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied.”
The US may also be on the verge of an all-out confrontation with Iran.
“Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies,” Obama said.
And Iran sounds pretty much like the next target for US blows, with Barack Obama warning that all possibilities will be considered.
“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.
Washington is actively building up its military presence in the Persian Gulf.
Obama says a peaceful resolution of the tension around Iran is still possible, but there are some conditions required:“If Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.”
But experts say further military involvement is beyond America’s means.
“The military adventurism – we can’t afford it,” Wes Benedict says.
Professor Paul Sheldon Foote from California State University says the president’s pledge is at odds with Washington’s foreign policy goals.
“He said we killed Gaddafi, Syria is next and if Iran does not behave, they are there after that.
So, it is totally contradictory to say that he is going to be able to pay down the American debt and expand government spending programs domestically with saving from bringing home soldiers from wars, but in fact he has plans to expand,” he told RT.