I think it’s fair to say that this year’s State of the Union address had even less directly related homeland security content than the last. This shouldn’t be a surprise, as beforehand everything indicated an economic heavy speech. It was still there, however, if you look hard enough.
For those of you possibly concerned by the lack of the phrase “homeland security” anywhere in the speech, rest assured that “national security” received only one mention. I am not sure there are any lessons to be derived from the paucity of homeland or even national security issues. The United States remains the strongest, most secure nation on Earth. Perhaps it is just time that we realize that fact.
What little there is I’m going to divide up among three tiers. Tier 1 are those issues directly dealt with by the homeland security enterprise and those with impacts on that community. Tier 2 are topics that can have second or third degree impacts. Tier 3 are much broader, societal resilience issues. Feel free to disagree about my sorting. I still have second thoughts.
But first a few side notes:
- The cable news stations are treading dangerously close to parody with their hours of pre-speech analysis. It is beginning to have a Super Bowl-all-day-programming-filled-with-inane-segments feel to it. Add to that the amount of time spent on the Oscar/Grammy-like red carpet segment showing the arrival of members of Congress, though they definitely skewed older and conservatively dressed. Though I’d bet the First Lady could rock the red carpet.
- More time was spent on the arrivals than the impact of the winter storm down South. Thousands of people are stuck on the roadways in Atlanta alone with hundreds of schoolchildren sheltering in place overnight and CNN was able to tear itself away from post-speech analysis for a good five minutes. Thank god for the Weather Channel.
- The White House labeled last night’s speech the “most accessible and interactive SOTU yet.” Sure, you could watch it online or just look at the handful of slides they provided with additional information on particular topics. And of course there was Facebook, Twitter, and other social media links for sharing with your friends. But would it have killed them to simply post the text of the speech in a readily available location? I searched around for a while, gave up, and Googled it.
- The important trivia for the night: Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz was the Cabinet Secretary chosen not attend the speech but instead spend the night in a secure, secret location to ensure continuity of government in case of catastrophe on the Hill. The odd thing is that last year then Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was the designated Cabinet official. Is the thinking that physicists will do very well as a near dictatorial leader following the elimination of the rest of government? Or are they just more likely to be bored with the speech?
Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes — because in today’s global economy, first- class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer.
Finally, if we’re serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system. (Cheers, applause.) Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted, and I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.
Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say “we are not afraid,” and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters and our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.
If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al-Qaida. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country.
The fact is that danger remains. While we’ve put al-Qaida’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved as al-Qaida affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks. In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses and combat new threats like cyberattacks.
We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us — large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.
So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks, through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners, America must move off a permanent war footing. That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones, for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence.
That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals and setting an example for the rest of the world.
American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles.
Energy (as we continue to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy, our strategic relationships should change in a fashion that reduces our vulnerabilities):
More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world, the first time that’s happened in nearly twenty years.
The “all the above” energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today America is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades.
And even as we’ve increased energy production, we’ve partnered with businesses, builders and local communities to reduce the energy we consume. When we rescued our automakers, for example, we worked with them to set higher fuel efficiency standards for our cars. In the coming months I’ll build on that success by setting new standards for our trucks so we can keep driving down oil imports and what we pay at the pump.
Climate change (a topic not directly worked by most federal homeland agencies, for example see the Recovery Diva’s recent post on the challenges facing FEMA, but many states and coastal cities are taking the risks very seriously):
But we have to act with more urgency because a changing climate is already harming western communities struggling with drought and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air.
But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.
Iran (a nuclear Iran would not be in the national interest of the U.S., but it would not represent an existential threat; the danger would not be a direct attack but rather further proliferation in the Middle East and the risk of poor control of weapons or materials; there is little evidence, and much academic work that concludes the contrary, any state would voluntarily hand over a nuclear weapon to a terrorist organization):
As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.
It’s not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)
These negotiations will be difficult; they may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threaten our allies; and we’re clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away. But these negotiations don’t rely on trust; any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today.
The majority of the speech was focused on jobs, education, and healthcare. There are vast ideological differences on how to advance all three, but all are vital for the long term resilience of our society.