WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama claimed several national security successes during his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, defiantly doubling down on his belief that military power alone is insufficient.
Republican lawmakers and analysts spent most of Tuesday hammering Obama's policies on Russia, the Islamic State and Afghanistan, arguing the commander in chief's approach has left the United States -- and its allies -- vulnerable to attacks and with less sway on the global stage.
The commander in chief made no mention of striking a fiscal deal that would nix or lessen the remaining years of across-the-board defense -- or domestic -- budget cuts, a potential signal the White House has given up hopes of such an accord with congressional Republicans.
"Tonight, I had hoped the president would put forth a plan to reverse the devastating effects of this harmful policy to provide our Service members with the support, funding and certainty they need," Turner said. "Instead, he ignored the issue of sequestration all together."
In a portion of his speech that drew a standing ovation from Republican and Democratic members in the chamber, Obama reiterated a central piece of the counterterrorism approach employed by his administration and the George W. Bush administration before it.
"First, we stand united with people around the world who've been targeted by terrorists – from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris," he said. "We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we've done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies."
Obama signaled during his annual address to Congress that the final two years of his rocky reign will feature more of the same: Less dependence on solely military operations, working with allies, and avoiding protracted ground operations. For the latest national security news from Capitol Hill, go to CongressWatch."When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military – then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world," Obama said from the podium in a packed House chamber. "That's what our enemies want us to do.
"I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership," he said. "We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don't let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.
"That's exactly what we're doing right now," he said, "and around the globe, it is making a difference."
Republicans, however, strongly disagree.
"We know threats like these can't just be wished away. We've been reminded of terrorism's reach both at home and abroad; most recently in France and Nigeria, but also in places like Canada and Australia," Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a new Armed Services Committee member, said in the GOP response to Obama's speech
"Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief," Ernst said, speaking from a SASC hearing room. "The forces of violence and oppression don't care about the innocent. We need a comprehensive plan to defeat them."
That was a sentiment espoused earlier in the day by SASC chairman John McCain, R-Ariz.
"The president keeps talking about the end of war," McCain said earlier Tuesday on MSNBC. "I mean that — that's all ridiculous," he said, adding the Islamic State "is on the march."
GOP members were not impressed when Obama suggested during his speech that, more than 13 years after the 9/11 attacks, America can "turn the page."
"We are 15 years into this new century," Obama said. "Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world. It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.
"But tonight," he declared, "we turn the page."
With the Islamic State and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) scoring tactical and strategic victories, it was not immediately clear what exactly is on the new page to which Obama referred in terms of the national security picture.
"President Obama has not adequately addressed our national security needs. He told us terrorism was on the run," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said in a statement. "He pulled back America's presence in places like Iraq and restricted presence in Yemen. That's allowed much greater dangers to be pulled into that void.
""Without US leadership, there is a vacuum that becomes a breeding ground for groups like [Islamic State] and al-Qaida," Thornberry said. "In this case, Iran has also taken advantage of the vacuum supporting their proxies in the region and are taking advantage of the United States' failed policies in Yemen and the Middle East."
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in a statement that "tonight President Obama sent one resounding message: he remains wholly out of touch with the priorities of the American people."
"The president ignores the threat of terrorists and foreign fighters to America both at home and abroad, while also failing to address our porous borders," McCaul said. "He has ignored the will of the people, instead choosing to offer up the same tired and failed policy proposals we've seen unsuccessfully implemented for the past six years. His out of touch policies and empty rhetoric were rejected last November by voters and nothing he said tonight will change that."
On security matters, Obama sounded an upbeat -- but nuanced -- tone. It was a striking opposite message than is delivered by Republicans like McCain and McCaul on a daily basis.
"In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping [Islamic State's] advance," he said. "Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.
"We're also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism," the president said. "This effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed."
Obama signaled at least one matter of war could provide a place where he and Republicans can get something done.
"And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against [Islamic State]," he said.
Lawmakers in both political parties for months have urged Obama to seek an AUMF for the new conflict, with Republican members saying the White House should craft a measure to which they can make changes.
Notably, Obama did not state whether he intends to do so.
GOP members, joined by some Democrats, want to slap new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear arms program. Obama made clear he opposes such a move, arguing it would damage ongoing talks.
"Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we've halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material," the president said. "Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies – including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.
"There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran," he said. "But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails – alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn't make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress."
The commander in chief told lawmakers he considers war with Tehran "a last resort."
Much has been made of the administration's "pivot to Asia," a mix of economic, diplomatic and military tactics aimed, in part, at countering China's rise.
There, too, the president merely doubled down on his approach, which has confounded China hawks who want a more muscular policy.
"In the Asia-Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules – in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, and how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief," Obama said.
One senior GOP senator who has been involved in fiscal and foreign policy talks with Obama called on the president to spend his last years in office reaching out to lawmakers.
"It is my hope the president will recognize that the only way to solve some of the big issues we face and create a stronger, more prosperous nation for future generations is to roll up his sleeves, provide leadership and work with this new Congress," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a statement. "If he does that, I think we can begin to deliver real, long-lasting results for hardworking American families."
But most Washington conservatives see few reasons for hope.
"Barack Obama marches to his own drummer and he will give the speech worthy of the insular Obamaworld in which he resides," Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, said in a statement.
Pletka predicted hours before the speech that Obama would describe the ongoing talks with Iran, his pushback of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his olive branch to Cuba as successes.
"The question for Mr. Obama, of course, is are these real successes? And at what price have they been achieved?" she said. "Only the next president, to whom Obama will bequeath a global disaster scene of almost epic proportions, will understand the impact of the unprecedented global retreat this administration has sustained over two terms."