WASHINGTON (Christian Examiner) – World War III isn't underway and America doesn't need to be restored to her former glory because she hasn't fallen, President Barack Obama said in pointed remarks aimed at Republican frontrunner Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during his final State of the Union address Tuesday.
In the speech, which supporters said would tout his administration's successes, Obama took time to dismantle what he regards as Republican myths about his presidency and pan GOP talking points about terrorist threats facing the United States. He said the U.S. is able to handle the threats posed by both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and talk of America's vulnerability, he said, is "political hot air."
America is not getting weaker, he added.
"We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined. Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world. No nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that's the path to ruin. Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead – they call us," Obama said.
That, however, isn't necessarily true as worldwide political turmoil has forced some countries into the orbits of both Russia and China. Moscow has played a hand in crises in the Baltics, Georgia, the Ukraine and now Syria. China is also flexing its muscle in the South China Sea and claiming wide swaths of territory traditionally belonging to Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Those countries are generally facing the crises alone.
Obama hinted that his opponents do not have access to relevant security information when they discuss the conditions facing the U.S. at home and abroad, but he said he is aware "this is a dangerous time."
"That's not because of diminished American strength or some looming superpower," Obama said. "In today's world, we're threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia."
He did not take responsibility for his administration's fomenting of the Arab Spring and support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
NO GLOBAL CONFLICT
Obama said the U.S. is doing what is necessary to protect citizens, and he dismissed as "over-the-top" claims that the country was in the midst of another world war. Those descriptions are good propaganda for the enemy, he said.
"Over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands. Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped. But they do not threaten our national existence. That's the story ISIL wants to tell; that's the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don't need to build them up to show that we're serious, nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world's largest religions. We just need to call them what they are – killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed," Obama said.
Obama warned in a comment aimed at Cruz, however, that the world doesn't simply want to hear "tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians."
"That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn't pass muster on the world stage," Obama said.
Cruz, however, did not say civilians should be carpet bombed. He said he wanted to carpet bomb terrorist positions.
Asked about the State of the Union address, Cruz said he would "apologize to no one for my willingness and commitment to killing terrorists."
He also chastised the president for failing to address the terror attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Paris, as well as a recent attack on a Philadelphia police officer by a man who claimed to have shot the officer in the name of Islam.
"We need a commander-in-chief that will speak the name of our enemy," Cruz said. "Neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton has what it takes to do so. If I am president, we'll utterly destroy ISIS. It means carpet bombing them out of oblivion so that any jihadist that declares war and tries to murder Americans will be defeated."
Obama challenged Congress to pass a military authorization on the use of force against ISIS on the ground in the Middle East, but he also said he intends to pursue the terrorist "with or without congressional action."
"If you doubt America's commitment – or mine – to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden. Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell," Obama said.
IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Trump was also the focus of several comments, including the president's criticism of those who promote division in American society through rhetoric about how others look or their religion. Politicians, he said, shouldn't "insult Muslims."
"That's why we need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn't a matter of political correctness. It's a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith. His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot I stand tonight that "to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place."
"When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn't make us safer. That's not telling it like it is. It's just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country."
Obama, though he was expected to say more, only made a passing reference to other hot topics – same-sex marriage and gun violence. He claimed the work of his administration has "secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love."
Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for five days for contempt of court for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, was in the gallery.
Though his comment on reducing gun violence only occupied four words in his speech, one GOP representative still left the room in protest. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) left the floor and told a Breitbart editor afterward that he could "not abide sitting there being lectured one more time."
"This is my last chance to step out of there, and I'm going to go to the member's chapel and pray for the restoration of our Constitution, for the lives of the unborn for whom, as far as we know, he's never shed a tear for, and to pray God will raise up a leader he will use to restore the soul of America," King said.
Obama also took a jab at Trump on his economic record. After describing job gains – actually losses when the labor force participation rate is considered – Obama said the U.S. economy had recovered and anyone claiming otherwise was "peddling fiction."
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley voiced the Republican response to the address. She, too, seemed to have Trump in the cross hairs, though she did not mention the candidate by name. While critical of Obama's "soaring words" about his poor record, she said candidates needed to tamp down the anti-immigrant talk.
"During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation," Haley said. "No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country."
In speaking about the Charleston church massacre at Mother Emanuel, she said mentioned the twelve who went to Bible study that night:
"We lost nine incredible souls that night.
"What happened after the tragedy is worth pausing to think about.
"Our state was struck with shock, pain, and fear. But our people would not allow hate to win. We didn't have violence, we had vigils. We didn't have riots, we had hugs.
"We didn't turn against each other's race or religion. We turned toward God, and to the values that have long made our country the freest and greatest in the world.
Haley was later criticized by conservative commentator Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham for her comments.
GOP candidate Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, after offering a counter-point to almost every major victory Obama declared he made during his time in office, tweeted: "Proud of my friend @nikkihaley for delivering a positive & uplifing response to Pres. Obama's #SOTU. Clear vision for a brighter future."
Donald Trump, after referencing the SOTU as the "tonight show," later tweeted: "The State Of The Union speech was one of the most boring, rambling and non-substantive I have heard in a long time. New leadership fast!"
Ted Cruz, after promising his own State of the Union on the campaign trail from New Hampshire, tweeted: "Tonight's speech was less a State of the Union and more a state of denial. #SOTU."