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The State Of The Union Gilded The Troubled State Of The World

President Donald Trump arrives to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
President Donald Trump arrives to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

With the security case for a border wall already shot down by Fox News -- Fox News, for God’s sake, via Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith — that part of Tuesday night’s State of the Union can be forgotten.

We can similarly dismiss President Donald Trump’s claim that national security hinges on his freedom from being investigated for wrongdoing: “We must be united at home to defeat our enemies abroad.” Aside from conveniently placing him above the law, the claim disregards how we impeached two presidents, got President Nixon to resign after an investigation, and survived.

The wall and presidential immunity both allegedly seek to fulfill Trump’s oath to “preserve, protect and defend” the Consitution. They were parts of the broader foreign policy message telegraphed in his second SOTU. His policy ignorance usually has analysts looking in vain for an overarching vision of the world, seeing instead a commander-in-chief who flies by his gut. The thematic coherence came from his boast that he’d fulfilled his most sacred duty. He has Made America Safe Again.

Safe from the terrorists of ISIS in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Safe from North Korea, whose despot, Kim Jong-un, Trump promised to meet in Vietnam later this month for a second face-to-face. Safe from Iran, whose drive for nukes Trump said he aborted by leaving the Obama-era deal to — stop Iran from getting nukes.

If that last one sounds confusing, much of what the president said on these topics was indeed confused.

Any deal the administration strikes must get rigorous scrutiny, not the partisan rah-rah of the SOTU.

On the military front, Trump does deserve credit for continuing the dismemberment of ISIS’s dreamed-of caliphate begun under his predecessor. “Today, we have liberated virtually all of the territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters,” he declared before the joint session of Congress.

But as ISIS’s murder of 15 last month in a Syrian restaurant bombing showed that its army of 17,000 crazies still in Syria is not spent yet. Given that Trump has ordered an American withdrawal from the war-ravaged country (delayed after last week’s Senate vote opposing “precipitous withdrawal”), let’s hold the high-fives until it’s clear ISIS won’t add to its ranks or territory once we’re gone.

On Afghanistan, I side with Trump and against the defense establishment that we should end this 17-year-and-counting exercise in futility. Leave a sentry force of Special Ops and/or air power to ensure the place doesn’t become the terrorist sandbox it was before 9/11.

We aren’t winning, not with 60,000 Taliban fighters controlling or fighting us for 40 percent of the nation’s turf. Trump’s administration is negotiating a possible American withdrawal in exchange for the Taliban keeping terrorists out of its territory. Some analysts worry the Taliban’s fingers are crossed behind its back, offering false hopes in the knowledge that Trump wants out badly.

Any deal the administration strikes must get rigorous scrutiny, not the partisan rah-rah of the SOTU.

And after the vast nothingburger that was last year’s Trump-Kim summit, boasting about that topic is like appearing before Congress with your fly down. With the inevitably low bar we set for this president, we rejoice, appropriately, that he and the North Korean despot didn’t nuke the world during their schoolyard taunts early in Trump’s term.

But more than half a year of intelligence assessments and satellite images say Kim’s nuke drive is pedal to the metal. Again, hold the applause.

Iran? He pulled out of the deal, Trump said, “to assure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons.” Oops. The intelligence apparatus he oversees reports that Iran has continued to abide by the deal, which extended from a few months to a year by the time that country would need to acquire fissile material. The supposedly no-good deal is working.

Perhaps not for long. With Iran threatening to resume its nuke drive absent trade and foreign investment the deal promised, Trump’s self-ascribed farsightedness on the international stage may have history’s curtain ring down on his view.

As for his domestic agenda, Trump married noble aspirations (defeating childhood cancer and HIV/AIDS) and things he’s promised before (infrastructure, lower health care costs, and national unity).

I’ll believe the latter when I see them.

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Rich Barlow Cognoscenti contributor
Rich Barlow writes for BU Today, Boston University's news website.

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