WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, in his seventh and final State of the Union message, aimed his national security focus on his legacy and reassuring the American public that the country is safe and strong.
The president called for a global approach to protect American security, emphasizing his continued efforts to stop ISIS, recent policy developments including the Iran nuclear deal and his plan to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison.
After the growth of ISIS in the Middle East and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Obama had big concerns to address.
“Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks,” he said in the speech Tuesday night.
The president downplayed the threat of ISIS inside our borders, saying that the U.S. “is the most powerful nation on earth. Period.” Terrorist organizations are much less of a threat than failing states and destabilized areas, he said.
“We just need to call them what they are — killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down and destroyed,” he said.
Obama didn’t neglect his personal legacy, highlighting his recent national achievements in defense.
“If you doubt America’s commitment — or mine — to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden,” he said. “Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken outlast year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.”
He also touted the Iran nuclear deal and the Trans-Pacific Partnership as recent achievements. Obama called for Congress to approve the trade partnership agreement as a show of strength.
Besides protecting the United States, the president also focused on bringing about international cooperation to deal with the bloodshed in Syria and to cope with other global issues.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley spoke after Obama’s address as the official representative of the Republican viewpoint.
“We are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it,” she said.
Some Republicans, including Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, criticized the president’s handling of policy in the Middle East.
McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, issued a statement before the speech.
“President Obama came into office focused on ending—not winning—the war against Islamist terror,” McCaul said. “At the end of his presidency, we can now see clearly that retreat has put our nation in danger.”
The president spoke just as two U.S. naval vessels were taken into Iranian control earlier Tuesday. The ships are reportedly expected to return to U.S. control shortly, after diplomatic efforts by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Obama did not mention the captured ships in his address to Congress, although some Republicans criticized the president before the speech about the new development in Iran and his recent nuclear deal with that country.
Twitter exploded with reactions to the speech. One came from Shadi Hamid, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a center-left public think tank.
“Even when he’s trying not to, Obama can’t seem to keep himself from underplaying, underestimating, and, or, belittling the ISIS threat,” Hamid tweeted during the speech.
Others were more welcoming to the speech. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., who sits on the House armed services and homeland security committees, said Obama was right about the need to cooperate with the global community.
The U.S. is “not the solution,” she said in a phone interview. “But we can help.”
Sanchez said she wants to examine the plan for congressional authorization of use of military force against ISIS, one of Obama’s requests during the speech, before endorsing it.
“I don’t want to authorize any military force until we see what’s the game plan, and what the aftermath looks like,” she said.