Foreign Policy and Promises in the 2013 State of the Union

By Jason Clayton

Domestic policy took center stage at the 2013 State of the Union address, the first of President Barack Obama’s second term. The President did, however, take some time to address two foreign policy concerns: the war in Afghanistan and counterterrorism.

The War in Afghanistan

The President renewed his plans to gradually withdraw the remaining 66,000 American troops currently currently stationed in Afghanistan. He said 34,000 troops would return home in the next twelve months, and the remainder by the end of 2014. The withdrawal plan presented by the President would place the war in Afghanistan among the longest wars in U.S. history, second only to the Vietnam War.

The Obama administration argues that a gradual withdrawal is essential to maintain stability in the region and to train Afghan forces. To this end the administration has given military commanders much flexibility in the withdrawal process.

“This spring our forces will move into a support role while Afghan security forces take the lead,” President Obama said from the podium Tuesday night.

Administration officials say, however, that a significant fighting force will remain in the region at least until October 2013, and that up to 9,000 troops might remain into 2015 and beyond as part of responsible withdrawal.

Opponents of the gradual withdrawal argue that the financial cost of two more years of warfare – about half a trillion dollars – as well as the cost of injuries and deaths of soldiers and civilians do not justify the extended commitment. Other critics believe the presence of American forces will not significantly improve the stability of the region or aid in the further eradication of Taliban forces.

It seems unlikely President Obama will hasten the withdrawal schedule in response, but while public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of the decision to end the war, opinion remains divided on the proper timetable.


The President also stated his commitment to transparency and legality in counterrorism efforts. “I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world,” he said Tuesday.

In the past, the war on terror has raised legal questions surrounding the use of military tribunals and enhanced interrogation methods. More recently, concerns about legality and secrecy have shifted to the use of unmanned drones in the Middle East and elsewhere. A memo outlining legal procedure for assassination of suspected terrorists, released earlier this month, has raised additional concerns about the authority of the executive abroad and at home.

In Tuesday’s address the President responded to accusations of excessive executive power, assuring the nation that all policies are consistent with American laws and separation of powers.

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