The Yomiuri Shimbun January 30, 2014
Obama makes only brief reference to Asia in State of Union address
U.S. President Barack Obama stressed on Tuesday night that he would put priority on supporting middle-class Americans, and promised to create more jobs and alleviate income disparities between rich and poor. It was apparently a speech aimed at restoring his floundering approval rate ahead of midterm elections in November.
In his annual State of the Union address, a policy speech for the year, Obama expressed his strong determination to make 2014 “a year of action.”
Obama last year had a harsh confrontation with the Republican Party, which controls the House of Representatives, which resulted in a partial shutdown of government functions. He had a series of failures in both domestic and foreign affairs that temporarily sunk his approval rate to its lowest level since his inauguration.
If his Democratic Party slips to a minority in both houses of Congress in this year’s mid-term elections, the Obama administration is certain to be rendered ineffectual for the remainder of its term. The question is what strategy he will use to recoup the lost ground.
Obama stressed in the speech what he has accomplished regarding the recovery of the U.S. economy after the financial crisis. He then proposed minimum wage hikes in consideration of low-income earners who have not yet benefited from the economic recovery. He also referred to the expansion of job opportunities with the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and immigration reform.
All of these are policies that would help cement the support base for Democrats.
Confrontation with GOP
It is noteworthy that Obama said he would use executive orders if his bills are not passed in Congress. Even if Republicans refuse to raise minimum wages, Obama stressed he would issue an executive order to raise the wages of some federal contract workers.
This illustrates a point of conflict between his party and Republicans. But the GOP has reacted sharply against Obama, criticizing him for disrespecting Congress. There is concern that confrontation between the two parties will intensify.
Obama made relatively fewer references to foreign and security policies, as compared to domestic issues, as this is an election year. The president stressed U.S. combat troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year and the U.S. war against terrorism “will finally be over.” But we hope Obama will maintain all possible measures against terrorism even after U.S. forces leave the country.
Apparently with the so-called shale gas revolution in mind, the president also stressed “America is closer to energy independence.” But it would be a problem if this makes the United States less interested in Middle East affairs.
Obama also said: “We will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies [and] shape a future of greater security and prosperity.” The president clearly said he maintains a foreign policy with emphasis on Asia, but his reference to the region remained brief and dry.
For the second straight year, Obama did not attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit meeting. We wonder how he will realize the United States’ “focus” on the region.
With the rise of China, closer unity among the United States and its Asian allies, including Japan, is now needed more than ever before.
Obama should demonstrate his leadership more clearly during his tour of Asian countries scheduled for this spring.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 30, 2014)