President Barack Obama gave his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday night, and he touched on everything from healthcare spending to immigration reform. However, members of the military community were likely most interested in what he had to say about the future of defense spending and America’s role in Afghanistan. He discussed both issues at length as well as the progress that’s been made in the more than decade-long fight against al-Qaida and the increasing threat of cyberterrorism.
Spending cuts take center stage
The address was given under the continuing threat of sequestration, harmful across-the-board budget cuts, which will be enacted on March 1 if Congress cannot agree on a deficit reduction strategy. The Pentagon will take the brunt of these deep cuts, and as he has done for much of the last 18 months, Obama called on members of both parties to compromise so that the Armed Forces can remain as capable in the future as they are now. Sequestration would result in an additional $500 billion in budget cuts over the next 10 years, which is on top of the already established $487 billion cut over that same time period.
Changes to military culture
Obama also touched on the fact that the Armed Forces has seen great strides over the last two years when it comes to being more inclusive. He touted the recent Pentagon announcement that women can serve in combat roles, along with making reference to the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” mid-way through his first term. However, he said there was still considerable work to be done.
“We will ensure equal treatment for all servicemembers, and equal benefits for their families – gay and straight,” he told a joint session of Congress. “We will draw upon
the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat.”
The future of the military
Spending cuts aside, the role the U.S. military will play in the coming decades is changing, Obama said. Along with announcing the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next year, he also hinted at offering assistance to embattled nations such as Libya, Somalia and Yemen. He also detailed a new executive order meant to strengthen the country’s cyber-security to protect it from outside attacks.