State of the Union 2019: Foreign Policy

State of the Union 2019 Preview


  • The big question on foreign policy will be how far the president deviates from the statements made by his top intelligence officials last week. After their testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on global threats, the president first pushed back on what they said and then attacked the media coverage of what they said while trying to show a unified front with his intel team. Will his address align more closely with their stated assessment or his personal views? Below are the specific threats he's likely to address.

  1. North Korea: The president's intel team stated that North Korea hasn't made significant steps towards denuclearization and likely won't in the future. The president has put a much more positive spin on the issue as he tries to negotiate with Kim Jong-un and set up a second summit. Look for the president to focus on North Korea's recent change in behavior (lack of missile testing, diplomatic improvements, etc.) while omitting the lack of progress on actually denuclearizing.
  2. Iran: The president's intel team stated that Iran is still in compliance with the nuclear deal, although they appear to be making preparations in the event that they decide to stop complying. Watch for the president to focus less on the nuclear deal and more on their aggression within the region, in addition to touting the economic difficulties they're facing due to recent sanctions levied against them by this administration. The key question here is how hawkish will the language directed at Iran be? You can bet National Security Advisor John Bolton will have had a hand in this part of the address.
  3. Syria/Afghanistan: The president's intel team stated ISIS continues to be a threat in the Syria/Iraq region, something far different from what the president has stated about the terrorist organization over the past few months. Republicans in Congress have also taken extraordinary steps to push back on the president's plan to withdraw troops from both Syria and Afghanistan. Look for President Trump to walk a fine line between making the case for a withdrawal but not giving many specifics on a timetable. You'll also likely see the president praise his administration's actions against ISIS and recent progress in peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  4. China: The president's intel team listed China as the top global threat to the U.S. Will the president take the same stance, or will he take a more careful tone on the national security threat posed by China's rise as he continues negotiations with them over trade issues? The latter seems more likely. Expect a tough tone on China when it comes to trade and more of a fleeting mention of the problems they're causing on the national security front.
  5. Russia: All eyes will be on how the president talks about Russia. His intel team issued a very damning report about their actions towards U.S. elections and the trouble they're causing across the globe. The president's rhetoric on Russia continues to be much different. Look for the president, if he mentions Russia at all, to lay out some steps his administration has taken in response to Russian aggression while continuing to make the case for why they can be helpful to us on a variety of issues.
  6. Venezuela: President Trump will likely bring up recent actions his administration has taken to push back on the Maduro regime. You could also see a connection made between the situation in Venezuela and some policies Democrats have been pushing in both Congress and on the 2020 presidential campaign trail.

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