Barack Obama has delivered his third State of the Nation address, conscious of the fact that the race to secure a second mandate has entered a decisive phase. After the defeat of the Democrats in the November mid-term elections, there is no room for error and no political faction will hesitate to make him pay. But neither will a merely defensive stance be sufficient to repeat the majority that swept Obama into the White House on the back of a reformist agenda, the results of which so far have disappointed those within his ranks and have mobilized his adversaries.
The political margin that Obama possessed to remain faithful to his original program and introduce the necessary amendments was limited. In his address, Obama was able, however, to find a line of argument to place him on a counterattacking foot. Reforms, the president said, are the response the United States needs to maintain its position in the face of emerging powers; China in particular. Obama promises to maintain investment in sectors such as training, education, and healthcare, but he anticipates the criticism that will accompany the deficit figures announcing cuts in public spending, including the military, and freezing for up to five years investments in programs that are not priorities.
This balancing act will not deflect a clash with the Republicans, but it could help disarm the idea that the debate is simply one between those who are not concerned by the deficit and those that want to reduce it. Obama has shown himself to be firmly in the latter camp, although in disagreement with the opposition in the areas in which savings must be made.
In foreign policy, the presidential program is dictated by the new international reality created by the emerging nations, obliging Washington to reformulate its analysis and its lines of action to maintain its supremacy. After the recognition of China's role in the new world order that accompanied the visit of Hu Jintao, Obama wishes to reinforce ties with Latin America, where Brazil is another of the main actors on the new stage of global reality. The express support of Obama for the Tunisian uprising that led to the overthrowing of the dictatorship of Ben Ali contained a double message: The United States will continue to uphold the spread of democracy, but not by waging wars like those launched by his predecessor in the White House. Obama made no mention, however, of the once top priority issue of a future Palestinian state.