Obama's Unheralded Goal: Getting Foreign Policy Off Combat Track
Obama's Unheralded Goal: Getting Foreign Policy Off Combat Track

by Jules Witcover

The most poignant moment in President Obama's fifth State of the Union address came near the end, when he introduced the Army Ranger severely wounded in Afghanistan sitting in the House gallery, to thundering and heartfelt applause from the standing members of Congress below.

As the heavily decorated Sgt. Cory Remsburg stood with his father on one side and first lady Michelle Obama on the other, the president recalled first meeting him on Omaha Beach at the 65th anniversary of the allied D-Day landing in World War II.

Remsburg was serving as a Normandy guide to him then, Obama recalled. "A few months later on his tenth deployment," he said, "Cory was nearly killed in a massive roadside bombing in Afghanistan. His comrades found him in a canal, face down, underwater, shrapnel in his brain."

Obama went on to recount how Remsburg lay in a coma for months. When the president next encountered him in a hospital, he was recovering from much surgery and was blind in one eye. But, Obama reported to Congress, "he's learned to speak again and stand again and walk again, and he's working toward the day he can serve his country again."

There were many teary eyes in the crowd, and in one sense the sergeant's appearance was just another of those White House orchestrations to honor notable public service by everyday Americans -- and to milk possible political gain for whichever party happens to occupy the Oval Office.

But the courageous Ranger's presence in another sense was a critical reminder of the price ordinary Americans in the military pay every day, and many for the rest of their lives, for the decisions of their civilian leaders who send them to war, sometimes of necessity, sometimes not.

Obama in his brief remarks on foreign policy reviewed the overseas deployments of the first five years of his presidency, citing the imperative of engaging terrorists that imperil America wherever they crop up. But he also took note of the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq and their ongoing pullout from Afghanistan, which will be completed by the end of this year.

While vowing to send Americans wherever required to protect this country, Obama pointedly said: "I will never send our troops into harm's way unless it is truly necessary, nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that must be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us -- large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism."

He continued: "So even as we aggressively pursue terrorist networks ... America must move off a permanent war footing." In so doing, he said, he will be relying more on diplomacy to resolve foreign disputes, noting that "American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated."

Obama also claimed, perhaps too optimistically, that it was the resort to "American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran's nuclear program, and rolled parts of that program back, for the very first time in a decade." And he added: Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium" required to make a nuclear bomb.

In the same vein of contending to move from decade-long wartime status, Obama renewed his failed earlier commitment to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, where suspected terrorists have been held without trial contrary to America's own constitutional principles.

As a lead-in to his salute to Sgt. Remsburg, the president also reminded Congress that "as this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life," and must be assured of continued medical and rehabilitation aid from their government.

Most of Obama's State of the Union address focused on his domestic agenda stuck in an uncooperative Congress. But his emphasis on getting American foreign policy off the military combat track after the nation's longest war, if he succeeds in doing so, may turn out to be the principal legacy of his presidency.




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Obama's Unheralded Goal: Getting Foreign Policy Off Combat Track