For his seventh appearance before Congress to deliver the traditional State of the Union address, which determines America’s agenda for the year, Barack Obama mostly focused on the success of the American economic recovery. And, fair enough, he gave only the bare minimum to foreign policy and the fight against terrorism, in which his past achievements have been disappointing and his ambitions for the future a bit meager.
“The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.” Economic optimism and self-satisfaction at having escaped the slump that America has been in since 2008: that was the central theme of the message that Obama wanted to get across to a Congress that has a majority against him for the first time during his two presidencies. However, he also made it clear that he will be neither passive nor inert during his two remaining years in office. There promises to be great battles between the Republicans — who will pass laws the president will veto — and Obama, whose proposed texts will be blocked by majorities in both chambers; for example, his proposals to increase taxes on the rich, standardize education or provide financial compensation for those who fall ill. This proposal, an aberration for many Americans, has earned him this title from a Republican newspaper: “President Obama Wants You to Get Paid, Even When You’re on Leave.”
Fragile and Uncertain Situation
However, the American president can simultaneously profit from the uptick in his popularity, which has recovered to 50 percent after stagnating around 40 for years. He can also be said to have launched a program that his successor will apply. This message was so well received by Hillary Clinton, probable Democratic candidate for 2016, that she immediately tweeted to salute Obama for “point[ing] way to an economy that works for all.”
However, if the dip in gas prices and the fact that the U.S. hasn’t created as many jobs since 1999 permit Obama to congratulate himself for defeating “the cynics,” he can hardly claim victory for what was done in the rest of the world. Yet he continues to celebrate the end of the war in Afghanistan, although the departure of NATO troops has left the country in a situation that is more fragile and uncertain than ever after more than 10 years of presence. He made fun of Russia, whose assault on Ukraine has put the economy in bad shape, thanks to sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe. But he forgot to mention that Moscow’s annexation of Crimea was an established fact and a serious breach of the inviolability of European borders, which has existed since World War II.
“The Page of Terrorism Is Turned”
But where there is concern that President Obama has effectively put on rose-colored glasses is when it comes to terrorism, because even if he recognizes that a number of countries live under its threat, he says “tonight, we turn the page.” This led editorialist Dana Milbank to suggest, “Let’s hope that, when the history of this moment is written, the 2015 State of the Union address will not be retold under the title ‘While America Slept.’” He makes allusion to the book “While England Slept,” written by Churchill in 1938, about the blindness of Europeans, and especially Great Britain, in fighting the Nazi threat.
Despite the 17 victims in Paris, the attack against the Canadian parliament a few weeks ago, the threats that extend as far as Australia, the manhunts throughout Europe against dormant Islamist networks and the risks posed to all Western countries, including America, by the return of those who went to wage jihad in Syria or Iraq, America, according to Obama, “has turned the page on terrorism.”**
Sept. 11 is already far away. In October 2001, 46 percent of Americans considered terrorism to be the number one danger threatening the United States. In the same Gallup poll, at the beginning of this January, no more than 2 percent feared it.
* Translator’s note: the Coué method refers to an optimistic mantra used in psychotherapy established by well-known French psychologist Emile Coué: “every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”
** Translator’s note: this quote has been paraphrased by the author.