Trump sounds familiar notes on defense in State of the Union

The only news was the announcement of a date and location of his second summit with North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un

President Donald Trump arrives in the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress in the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump arrives in the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress in the Capitol on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 6, 2019 at 4:56pm

President Donald Trump stressed his principal defense positions in his State of the Union address Tuesday, without providing new details about planned troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan.

The only news was announcement of the date and location of his second summit with North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un — on Feb. 27 and 28 in Vietnam. Trump said he believed that if he had not been elected, the United States would “right now” be fighting a “major war” with North Korea that might have killed millions.

Trump touted the U.S. military as “the most powerful on Earth by far.” During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said the military was in a degraded state.

In his remarks, the president specifically touted the U.S. missile defense system — even though its component parts have been in development for decades.

Watch: SOTU: A brief history

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He reaffirmed the U.S. withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty, which bars the United States and Russia from deploying land-based ballistic and cruise missiles of certain ranges.

He noted the need to end America’s long-running wars, specifically mentioning Syria and Afghanistan, where 3,000 and 14,000 U.S. troops are deployed, respectively.

“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” Trump said.

He celebrated the liberation of “virtually all” of the territory the Islamic State once held in Syria and Iraq.

“Now,” he said, “as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home.”

However, military and intelligence officials have warned over the last week about the latent threat posed by thousands of ISIS fighters who have gone to ground in Syria and Iraq. On Monday, the Senate overwhelmingly adopted a GOP-written resolution that, without naming Trump, warned against a “precipitous” withdrawal from Syria or Afghanistan.

On Afghanistan, Trump touted peace talks underway between U.S. officials and “a number of Afghan groups, including the Taliban.” Trump did not mention that America’s ally, the Afghan government, has been excluded from those talks, much to its anger. And many critics wonder, too, whether the Taliban can be trusted to keep Afghanistan free of al-Qaida and ISIS going forward.

Trump continued to paint refugees on the U.S.-Mexico border as a national security threat warranting deployment of U.S. troops. He reminded Congress he would add 3,750 active-duty troops on the border. When combined with departures of other troops, the net addition of active-duty soldiers appears to be closer to 2,000. The surge of forces will soon bring the total of both active and Guard troops on the border close to 6,500.

Trump also assailed Iran and said he withdrew America from the multinational nuclear deal with that country in order “to ensure this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons,” even though U.S. and international experts have said that Iran halted its nuclear work under the agreement and has yet to resume it.

“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ and threatens genocide against the Jewish people,” Trump said of Iran.

Then, in an attempt to connect Iran to anti-Semitic violence, he transitioned to a description of attacks on Jews — from the gunfire at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October to the Nazi death camps in the 1940s.