State of the Union: Obama Glosses Over Development

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his second State of the Union on Jan. 25. Photo by: Pete Souza / White House

In his second State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama had a clear message to the new and divided Congress: The U.S. can only succeed in “winning the future” through “a new level of engagement in [the country’s] foreign affairs.”

His speech, however, was clearly geared toward bipartisanship and sidestepped several issues that the Republican and Democratic parties find contentious, including development and the foreign aid budget.

The State of the Union address was delivered on Jan. 25, the same day U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, hosted a briefing as part of House Republicans’ campaign to cut U.S. contributions to the United Nations. She and her Republican colleagues in Congress are also eyeing to defund the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah denounced the move, stressing that it would compromise the country’s national security.

>> Rajiv Shah Responds to House Republicans: Foreign Aid is Key to National Security

Though implicit, the need to preserve national security was central to Obama’s call for stronger relations with other nations.

“Just as jobs and businesses can now race across borders, so can new threats and new challenges. No single wall separates East and West; no one rival superpower is aligned against us,” Obama said. “And so we must defeat determined enemies wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion. America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom, justice, and dignity.”

Obama hinted at how the U.S. has engaged and will continue to engage with some of the world’s political, development and security hot spots.

Iraq: “This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq.”

Afghanistan: “Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them.”

Sudan: “Recent events have shown us that what sets us apart must not just be our power – it must be the purpose behind it. In South Sudan – with our assistance – the people were finally able to vote for independence after years of war.”

>> Waging Peace in Sudan – and What it Means for Development

>> After the Referendum: Sudan’s Development Challenges

Tunisia: “We saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator. And tonight, let us be clear: the United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.”

Daniel Yohannes, head of the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corp., echoed Obama’s call for a bipartisan movement to advance U.S. interests abroad.

“MCC has incorporated the best ideas from both sides of the aisle since its creation, to ensure that American taxpayers are getting a strong return on their development investments,” Yohannes said in a statement.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.