Obama Briefly Highlights Foreign Policy Themes In State Of Union Address

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday “focused on jobs, budget trimming, and investment, but he also underscored foreign policy concerns and outlined an approach to international relations with ‘a new level of engagement,'” CBS News’ “Political Hotsheet” blog reports.  

“U.S. foreign policy, he said, must lead as a ‘moral example’ of ‘freedom, justice, and dignity'” (Folk, 1/26). Obama also answered “calls for steep budget cuts with a far more modest proposal to freeze a portion of government spending for five years,” the Wall Street Journal writes. “Obama’s freeze proposal in essence extends a plan for a three-year freeze that he laid out in his State of the Union speech a year ago,” the newspaper adds (Weisman/Hook, 1/26).

ABC News’ “Political Punch” blog notes that Obama “spent just 13% of his time discussing foreign policy … While foreign policy is rarely the focus of a president’s State of the Union address, this year’s speech continued a trend during Obama’s presidency of not using the primetime platform to discuss matters overseas. In his two previous January addresses to Congress, President Obama only spent 11% of his time on foreign policy in 2010 and 10% in 2009, calculated as the percentage of words devoted to events abroad, defense, or international trade,” according to the blog (Radia, 1/25).

House Foreign Affairs Committee Panel Discusses U.N. Reform

Meanwhile ahead of the president’s speech, “Republican members of Congress on Tuesday used their newly won control of the House to advocate that the United States hinge its hefty support for the United Nations budget to more tangible efforts by the organization to root out corruption and advance American foreign policy goals,” the New York Times reports. “The House foreign affairs committee held an initial briefing to debate whether the administration should withhold the money for certain branches of the world body that members said worked against American interests” (MacFarquhar, 1/25).

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the new chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “is seeking cuts and has introduced a bill intended to pressure the United Nations to change the way it operates and to make dues voluntary. She also is promising investigations into possible corruption and mismanagement,” the Associated Press reports.

“U.S. policy on the United Nations should be based on three fundamental questions: Are we advancing American interests? Are we upholding American values? Are we being responsible stewards of American taxpayer dollars?” said a statement from Ros-Lehtinen that was read at the briefing. “Unfortunately, right now, the answer to all three questions is ‘No,'” the statement said (1/25).

At the briefing, six witnesses fielded questions, most of which “were divided along party lines,” according to the Times. “Republicans suggested that more financial oversight was essential for the United Nations to run smoothly. Democrats, while endorsing change, cautioned that the United States should not slash the budget of an organization that generally abets American foreign policy interests — from passing Security Council sanctions against Iran to distributing humanitarian aid in Haiti,” the newspaper writes. “The expert witnesses were also divided, although even those pushing for greater Congressional financial oversight noted that the United Nations budget process made it difficult to isolate financing for particular branches” (1/25).  

“Ros-Lehtinen’s bill calls for the United States to shun the U.N. Human Rights Council and to withhold an amount of U.N. dues equal to what it would contribute to the panel until the U.S. State Department certifies that the council does not include countries regarded by Washington as major human rights abusers,” Agence France-Presse writes. The bill “would also call for sweeping changes in the way the U.N. peacekeeping efforts are planned, managed, run and assessed, according to a summary from [Ros-Lehtinen’s] office” (Carmichael, 1/25).

The AP points out: “It is unclear whether the Republican critiques will lead to cuts in the U.S. contribution. Ros-Lehtinen’s bill probably would face resistance in the Democratic-controlled Senate and from the Obama administration. U.N. dues must be financed through annual congressionally approved spending plans and are thus subject to approval by both the House and Senate” (1/25).

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