Obama’s State of the Union Address: A Spurned ‘Asian Pivot’

Obama touched on hot-button issues for supporting the middle class and promised to implement policy to address job creation and income inequality. It was a speech that meant to turn around faltering approval ratings for midterm elections approaching in November.

President Obama gave the State of the Union address, which lays out the administration’s policies for the year, and positioned this as a “year of action.” This demonstrates his strong resolution.

Obama is strongly opposed by Republicans, who control the House of Representatives. This situation has brought a functional stop to one part of government. The setbacks continue in both domestic and foreign policy, and at one point, Obama’s approval ratings dipped to their lowest levels since he was inaugurated. If Democrats tumble to minority status in both the Senate and the House of Representatives after the midterm elections, Obama’s political lame-duck status will be solidified. A strategy for political overhaul is being demanded of him.

In the speech, Obama emphasized the success of the economic recovery [plan] in the wake of the financial crisis, and showing concern for people with lower incomes who were not reaping the benefits of the upturn, he proposed a minimum wage hike. He also commented on immigration reform and the expansion of job opportunities that accompany the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In the end, these are policies to rally the Democratic voter base.

Of particular note was a remark to fire off an executive order, in case Congress did not approve a bill. Obama stated he would raise the minimum wage for some government contract workers through executive order even if Republicans reject an overall minimum wage hike. This vividly displays the shape of the conflict Obama has with Republicans. However, Republicans quickly fired back at Obama’s alleged contempt toward Congress. There is concern these episodes could further intensify the conflict between Obama and Republicans.

Because this is an election year, domestic policy was the main focus, and references to foreign and security policy were left to a relative minimum. Obama emphasized that U.S. troops currently stationed in Afghanistan will be pulled out by the end of the year and the war on terror will “finally come to an end.” Even after the pullout, this paper hopes there will be assurances regarding anti-terrorist measures.

On energy issues, Obama stated that the U.S. was “closer to energy independence,” most likely with the “shale gas revolution” in mind. This paper is concerned whether this will lead to a decline in interest toward the Middle East on the part of the United States.

On the Asia-Pacific region, Obama affirmed he’d be “[continuing] to focus on the Asia-Pacific, [supporting] our allies, [shaping] a future of greater security and prosperity …” Even though Obama has declared a continuation of the so-called “pivot to Asia” policy, he went no further in addressing it than a terse phrase. Obama has been absent from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit two years running. In what concrete way is he planning to make a “pivot”?

With the rise of China, a strong allied front among Japan, the U.S. and other nations has never been needed more than it is now. This paper wants Obama to demonstrate greater leadership during his trip through Asia this coming spring.

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