With the State of the Union just a few hours away, here is EPIC’s wish list of the top five things that we hope to hear from President Obama tonight.
1. A Clear, Long-term Strategy for Peace in Iraq
It’s been one year since U.S. forces exited Iraq and although the President is committed to a civilian sponsored peace, the absence of a well-defined plan leaves more than one policy wonk wanting. It’s time for President Obama to recommit to his pledge to end the war in Iraq by articulating a clear, long-term strategy for ending the violence and threat of renewed civil war. Failure to do so could herald the return of an authoritarian regime that invades its neighbors and persecutes its own population.
2. Pledge to Assist the Region’s Vulnerable and Displaced
The Middle East region continues to face large-scale displacement and pressing humanitarian needs. Often under increasingly desperate conditions, more than 3 million of the roughly 4.7 million Iraqis who fled sectarian violence between February 2006 and May 2008 remain displaced within Iraq or as refugees in neighboring countries. Since the upheaval in Syria, tens of thousands displaced Iraqis have returned to the Republic for fear of persecution abroad. Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are currently seeking refuge in Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Egypt. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is urgently appealing for greater support to no avail, which is exactly why the Commander-In-Chief must bring the issue to the forefront in tonight’s address.
3. Reminder of American’s Commitments to the Middle East
In his 2012 State of the Union Address, the president proposed that the United States would, “…stand against violence and intimidation…and for the rights and dignity of all human beings – men and women; Christians, Muslims, and Jews.” One year later, the administration continues to grapple with this concept while Syrian rebels are left to fend for themselves and Iraqis lack critical infrastructure. We challenge the POTUS to remind Americans of the promise he made one year ago and to follow through on it by choosing action over rhetoric within the region.
4. Focus on Strengthening Iraq’s Democratic Institutions and Processes
It took a single year to ratify a constitution and to hold provisional elections in Iraq. The process was clearly rushed and left Iraq’s governance in the hands of inexperienced, untested leaders. Because the electoral process was so abrupt, poorly designed, and occurred during a time of great uncertainty and weak institutions, many Iraqis voted based on the sect of a candidate as opposed to the issues that matter to a fledgling democracy. This swift process inevitably prompted a new wave of ethno-sectarian violence.
With new uncertainties on the horizon, including the destabilizing impact of Assad’s likely ouster, the U.S. cannot abandon its commitment to Iraq. Along with the international community, the U.S. must redouble efforts to strengthen and stabilize Iraq’s democratic institutions and processes. This will also allow the people of Iraq to elect more capable representatives who can govern more responsibly.
5. Acknowledge the Importance of Investing in a Nation’s Youth
A majority of Iraqis are under the age of 25 and are unable to continue their education past primary school due to the poor maintenance of facilities, a lack of teaching supplies, and low wages provided to teachers. Education in Iraq, once regarded as the best in the region, rapidly fell to its current state in the 1990s and has continued to plummet for the past two decades. President Obama must use this platform to call upon Iraqi officials to invest far more of its oil wealth in the development of scholastic infrastructure to secure a better future for all Iraqis.
As you tune into President Obama’s SOTU address tonight, we’ll be live tweeting @enablingpeace.