Q&A on the State of the Union

Carlos Pascual
Carlos Pascual Former U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Senior Vice President for Global Energy - IHS Markit, Former Brookings expert

January 23, 2007

The State of the Union has, I think, a significant impact on peoples’ impressions and tone of American policy, but not on the specifics of policy. They use it as a way to judge whether the United States is reaching out, whether we are in fact seeing ourselves as part of an international community that is interdependent.

They will look at the State of the Union on whether there are any major red flags that go up about issues that we should be worried about. For example, the “Axis of Evil” in the State of the Union a few years ago, was immediately a flag about North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

I think similarly now people will be looking at the State of the Union on what kinds of flags go up. Are there issues that we should be worried about? What is the tone of American foreign policy going to be like? But I don’t think they’re going to be looking at it as a source of inspiration for solutions.

The challenge for the president will be can he do something that either allows the Iraq strategy to gain some new sustenance, or is he going to focus attention on other issues? The reality is he’s got a whole series of crises. He’s got Iraq, the Middle East peace process in general, Iran, North Korea. And then he’s got broader questions that he has to deal with – the rise of India, the rise of China, and how we incorporate those in our foreign policy strategy. And the likelihood that he’s going to be able to give us a sense of a cohesive strategy that grapples with these massive questions that we’re facing today is extremely extremely low.

I think one of the important things for us to think about as a nation is an irony that we face today. We are the most powerful nation on earth, we have the most powerful military that we have ever seen in history, we have a nuclear arsenal that can wipe out any country in the world, and yet at the same time we haven’t been able to achieve our objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The war on terror is one that is actually not progressed in a positive way. Terrorism has spread even further in the past years. And so, I think the interesting question for the president is will he grapple with these realities? Will he be honest with himself and the American people about the difficulties that we face in the limits of American power today and what is it that can be done to actually advance our security interests?