Overnight Defense

OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: What to expect in State of the Union

THE TOPLINE: President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union on Tuesday, and while domestic issues – topped by his economic agenda — will dominate the address, he will likely touch on a number of defense and foreign policy issues.

{mosads}-Islamic State: Tuesday’s State of the Union will be Obama’s first since the U.S. stepped up its fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Last year in his address, the president pledged to aggressively pursue terrorist networks but “move off a permanent war footing.” 

Obama has sought to balance concerns about the U.S. becoming entangled in a new Mideast conflict even as he oversees the potential deployment of more than 4,000 U.S. troops to the region to fight ISIS and train Syrian rebels. The president has already approved 3,100 troops for the mission, and is planning to send possibly about 1,000 more to train Syrian rebels. 

Pentagon officials have said the fight could last years.

-Terrorism: Last year, the administration touted its efforts to degrade the core of al Qaeda. However, fears have grown over “lone wolf” attacks by individuals inspired by the terror groups.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group’s Yemeni affiliate, has claimed responsibility for the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Those attacks, and a failed hostage rescue mission in Yemen last month, along with continuing instability there and across Africa could undermine claims U.S. counterterrorism efforts are working. 

-Guantanamo: The president has stepped up efforts to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay. Obama made closing the controversial facility a campaign promise in 2008 but has faced staunch opposition from Republicans — and some Democrats – in Congress.

Obama can be expected to reiterate his pledge even as Republicans push new legislation to block further transfers.

-Iran sanctions: Obama can also be expected to discuss another top priority — reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear program. He will likely reiterate his threat to veto any new sanctions legislation.  

Sens. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, and Mark Kirk are pushing legislation imposing new penalties on Iran if talks fail.

-Afghanistan:  The president has touted the end of the war in Afghanistan, with its transition from Operation Enduring Freedom to Operation Resolute Support. However, Obama faces criticism that local Afghan forces are unable to maintain security.

Around 10,000 U.S. troops still remain in the country, and face enemy attacks.

– Cybersecurity: The president has already previewed plans to improve cybersecurity, including initiatives to improve cooperation between the government and industry. The focus on cyber comes after the devastating hack on Sony Pictures, which the administration has blamed on North Korea.

During a meeting with congressional leaders last week at the White House, Obama cited cybersecurity as one area where he held hopes for bipartisan compromise.

– Veterans healthcare: Military veterans will be listening for further action at the Veterans Affairs Department, following last summer’s scandal where it was discovered patients waited months for their first appointment. 

The scandal cost then-Secretary Eric Shinseki his job and led lawmakers to pass reforms. But veterans groups say more must be done.

“We will be watching closely to see what the President has to say about the matters that affect us,” said a statement from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association.


IRAN FIGHT BREWING: A fight between the White House and Congress is looming as the Senate prepares to act on Iran sanctions legislation next week. 

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is planning to debate and vote on the sanctions bill next week, after the president issued a veto threat on any bill that includes sanctions. 

Supporters of the bill, which would be introduced by cosponsors Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), argue that the sanctions would only be implemented if Iran walks away from talks, or violates a future deal to curtail its nuclear program. 

Opponents argue that any sanctions legislation should be passed after the June 30, deadline for a new deal. 



On Tuesday, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) will unveil his agenda as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee at the American Enterprise Institute at 10 a.m., followed by a conversation with former Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.). 

Also on Tuesday, the Middle East Policy Council will host a panel of national security professionals at 1 p.m. to discuss “Managing, Ending and Avoiding Wars in the Middle East. Featured will be former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden, Daniel Bolger, Dafna H. Rand, Francis Ricciardone, and Thomas R. Mattair. 

On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. on “Global Challenges and U.S. National Security Strategy,” with former National Security Advisors Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew K. Brzezinski testifying. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday on Iran nuclear negotiations, with Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Under Secretary David S. Cohen. 

The House Veterans Affairs Committee also holds a hearing Wednesday, on “Building a Better VA: Assessing Ongoing Major Construction Management Problems within the Department.”

Also on Wednesday, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers speaks at the Atlantic Council at 10:15 a.m. on the role of defense intelligence in tracking security threats given ever-changing technology. 

On Thursday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee holds a hearing on the “Veterans’ Dilemma: Navigating the Appeals System for Veterans Claims.”

Also Thursday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno will speak at an Association of the United States Army breakfast at 7:40 a.m. in Arlington, Virginia. 



–McCain slams Obama ‘success story’ in Yemen

–New Senate Intel chairman wants more from Mideast allies

–Intel chief: ‘Unbelievable amount of data’ coming after Paris

–Senator: Assume sleeper cells are in US

Tags Bob Menendez Eric Shinseki Mark Kirk Robert Menendez

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