By Jeremy Herb - 01/25/12 03:05 AM EST
President Obama championed his foreign policy achievements in his election-year State of the Union and vowed that the United States will remain the “one indispensable nation” as long as he is in the Oval Office.
In an implicit rebuke to critics such as Mitt Romney, who has accused Obama of leading America into decline, the president said he is committed to ensuring that the U.S. remains “the one indispensable nation in world affairs.”
“As long as I’m president, I intend to keep it that way,” Obama said.
He took on critics of his Iran policy and pledged to do whatever it takes to ensure that Tehran never obtains a nuclear arsenal.
“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, drawing a standing ovation from both parties. “But 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.”
The president touted the killing of Osama bin Laden early in the address and held up the U.S. Navy Seals who carried out the mission as a model for the country.
The Seals succeeded, Obama said, because “all that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves.
“One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden,” Obama said. “On it are each of their names. Some may be Democrats. Some may be Republicans. But that doesn’t matter.
“Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates — a man who was George Bush’s defense secretary; and Hillary Clinton, a woman who ran against me for president,” he said.
Obama said ending the war in Iraq allowed America “to strike decisive blows” against al Qaeda operatives that remain, from Pakistan to Yemen.
“From this position of strength,” Obama said, the war in Afghanistan is also winding down. He reiterated his pledge to withdraw another 23,000 troops from Afghanistan next summer after 10,000 left this year.
With the money leftover from the end of the Iraq War, Obama proposed using half of it to pay down the debt and the rest “to do some nation-building right here at home.”
Obama spent some time discussing the Arab Spring, calling it “a wave of change,” that washed across the Middle East, a similar tagline to his own 2008 campaign.
He said the outcome of the Arab Spring remains uncertain, but added that the U.S. has “a huge stake.”
“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,” Obama said.
The president said the U.S. will continue to stand against human rights abuses around the world, as well as the rights of Christians, Muslims and Jews. He marked the demise of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, calling him “a murderer with American blood on his hands.”
“And in Syria,” Obama said, “I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change can’t be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied.”
Obama only briefly mentioned the $487 billion in cuts coming over the next decade to the Pentagon, saying that the new military strategy he proposed earlier this month “ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget.”
In his proposal for clean energy, Obama said that the Defense Department — the world’s largest consumer of energy — would make one of the largest commitments to energy in history.
He said he's already sent Congress legislation that would help secure the country from a growing danger of cyber-threats.
He proposed a new "Veterans Jobs Corps," to help communities hire veterans when they return home.
But ultimately, Obama’s foreign policy rhetoric on Tuesday were some of his greatest examples of a strong Union, ending his speech with the story of the bin Laden mission: “As long as we’re joined in common purpose,” he said in an ode to the Seals, “as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.”