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Obama State of the Union: 34,000 Troops Exiting Afghanistan but Economy Main Focus

By Jack Phillips
Epoch Times Staff
Created: February 12, 2013 Last Updated: February 14, 2013
Related articles: United States » National News
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Flanked by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R), President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Obama announced the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan by the year’s end and unveiled new economic policies. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Flanked by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R), President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Obama announced the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan by the year’s end and unveiled new economic policies. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

 President Barack Obama on Tuesday unveiled new economic policies, announced the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan by the year’s end, and promised to fix the United States’s broken immigration system.

Speaking in front of a divided Congress, the president also focused his attention on the somewhat vulnerable American economy, gun control, government investments, and curbing the world’s nuclear weapons arsenal following a nuclear test carried out by North Korea earlier on Tuesday.

In the first State of the Union address since winning re-election, Obama said that tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers will leave Afghanistan and essentially that he will adhere to the drawdown pact to fully withdraw from the country by 2014.

“I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan,” Obama said. “This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

American soldiers are still capable of “defeating the core of al-Qaeda,” the president stressed, and beyond 2014, the nature of the mission of U.S. troops there will change to a more support-based role.

“Today, the organization that attacked us is a shadow of its former self,” Obama said, referring to al-Qaeda.

The 34,000 soldiers are approximately more than one-half of the current troop count in the country. The United States has already brought home around 33,000 soldiers.

Economy the Main Focus

The primary focus of the president’s speech was on fostering “rising, thriving middle class” during his second term in office.

“It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country; the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead—no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love,” said the president, who frequently mentioned a “growing middle class.”

Analysts have said that Obama’s State of the Union comes at a relatively critical time, as his administration is buoyed by high public and Congressional support after his election victory in November.

There will be several initiatives to jumpstart the economy, according to Obama, adding that there will be government investment in education, green energy, infrastructure, and manufacturing. These initiatives will likely be resisted by Republican lawmakers, who have said that it is paramount to reduce deficit spending and who believe that the president’s proposals fail to do that.

Nonetheless, Obama said that he would not lay out any economic proposals that are not “fully paid for,” claiming that nothing he proposed Tuesday night would “increase our deficit by a single dime,” while acknowledging that “it’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government.”

“Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger,” Obama said. “But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded.” 

The economy has shown somewhat lukewarm recovery signs. Hiring has increased since 2009 and 2010, but the unemployment rate also increased last month slightly to 7.9 percent, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Our economy is adding jobs, but too many people still can’t find full-time employment.,” the president said. “Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time high, but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.”

Hesitation From the Other Side

The Obama administration offered small bits of what he would talk about in the State of the Union before Tuesday, and Republican lawmakers offered their responses to Obama’s proposals.

“The campaign is over, and the fact is, if the President plans to accomplish anything good for the country in the coming months, he’s going to have to go through a Republican-controlled House,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in a statement Tuesday. 

McConnell added that it is on the White House to reach out to Republicans in the House and Senate to make the government work better.

“Republicans have been very clear about the fact that we’d rather enact smarter spending cuts,” he added. “House Republicans even voted on a plan—twice—to do just that, but Washington Democrats so far have failed to put forward a serious proposal of their own.”

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