Peter Brookes: A preview of issues Trump may discuss tonight

Peter Brookes

No question that “kitchen table” domestic policy issues (for example, immigration, health care and infrastructure) will dominate President Trump’s first State of the Union address tonight.

That’s to be expected – and understandable.

But no less important to the interests of this country are a raft of nettlesome foreign policy and national security challenges that – shall we say – occupy the opposite side of that same State of the Union coin.

While I’m scribbling this, it’s not clear what the president of the United States will say tonight, but here’s a quick preview of the international issues I think he may get into:

  • North Korea: This is unquestionably the most pressing national security challenge we face. Putting Pyongyang’s recent charm offensive aside, and its goal of getting its athletes into the Winter Olympic Games, the threat hasn’t diminished.

The North will almost certainly return to its belligerent ballistic missile and nuclear behavior after the Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, conclude. The State of the Union is a good place to explain to the American people why this threat is so troubling.

  • China: While Beijing doesn’t have complete influence over Pyongyang, it does have more influence there than any other capital. President Trump may call upon Chinese President Xi Jinping to squeeze North Korean leader Kim Jong Un more over his nuclear naughtiness.

Beyond the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. isn’t very happy with China on trade, its military modernization, cyber espionage and the South China Sea. That said, Trump may decide to focus just on North Korea since Xi will be listening.

  • Iran: The president refuses to certify the Iran nuclear deal to Congress. Moreover, Congress has failed to fix the deal’s shortcomings so far.

Trump is going to pitch the pact out – one he’s called the “worst ever” – unless the agreement is tightened up. He’s calling upon the Europeans, who do a lot of business with Iran, to get changes made to the deal.

  • Terrorism: Team Trump has pulled ISIS apart – and deserves great credit for doing so. As a result, this nation has a significant drop in domestic terror plots. The president should lay out the case for (rightfully) keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq.
  • Russia: The White House may decide to put the Kremlin aside due to the ongoing political hubbub, but there’s plenty of reason to talk about Russia, including its involvement in Ukraine and Syria and the threat to NATO.
  • Defense: The State of the Union provides a great platform for Trump to explain the importance of rebuilding the military, which needs a financial shot in the arm due to the wear ‘n’ tear from the years of constant conflict.

Though getting into the aforementioned foreign policy problems should be enough, in light of pressing domestic policy concerns, it may make sense to go beyond that in the speech to explain what the nation’s defense requirements really are at this moment in time.

The State of the Union provides a unique opportunity to present the American people with the “big picture,” including outlining and explaining the critical challenges we face abroad which – as we all well know – can come to affect us at home.

With all that in mind, this is a speech you really shouldn’t miss.

This article first appeared in the Boston Herald. Dr. Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a Fort Valley resident.

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