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Issue Guide: 2016 State of the Union Address

Author: James McBride, Senior Online Writer/Editor, Economics
January 11, 2016

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President Barack Obama will deliver his seventh and final State of the Union to a joint session of Congress on January 12. The administration has suggested that the president will deliver a "nontraditional" speech, focusing on the large themes of his presidency rather than the usual list of policy goals. While President Obama says he intends to offer a meditation on his broader vision for the country, he is also expected to address immigration and refugee policy, clean energy measures, recent trade deals, and looming threats like terrorism, gun violence, and nuclear proliferation. Catch up on these topics with this reading list.

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech in Washington on January 20, 2015, as Chief Justice John Roberts and Secretary of State John Kerry look on. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/Reuters).

Trade and the Economy

Washington Post: The Battle Over President Obama’s Trade Deal Has Officially Arrived
Now that negotiations over President Obama's signature trade agreement with Asia-Pacific nations, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have been completed, the struggle to ratify the accord has begun. Major Democrats and Republicans in Congress are increasingly criticizing the plan, write Washington Post reporters David Nakamura and Mike Debonis.

Foreign Policy: The TPP Train Could Still Get Derailed
Philip Levy of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs takes a look at public sentiment on trade deals like the TPP and outlines the potential obstacles to completing the agreement in Foreign Policy.

CFR Blog: Renewing America—The Keystone Pipeline May be Dead, But Here’s How it Could Blow Up the TPP
The Obama administration's decision to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline has led to a lawsuit from the Canadian company behind the plan—and raised fears that the TPP could open the floodgates to more such legal actions, writes CFR's Edward Alden.

Financial Times: We Are at the End of the Line on the Doha Round of Trade Talks
United States Trade Representative Michael Froman argues that the system of global trade negotiations led by the World Trade Organization have reached a dead end, and that regional deals like the TPP or the U.S.-EU Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are the future.

Economist: The TTIP of the Spear
The United States and the European Union have framed their potential free trade deal, the TTIP, as a major strategic objective, a so-called "economic NATO." Yet this approach has major risks, write the editors of the Economist.

CFR Backgrounder: The Future of U.S. Trade Policy
This Backgrounder traces the history of global trade policy to the present-day efforts of the Obama administration to simultaneously negotiate two "mega-regional" trade deals with the Asia-Pacific and with the European Union.

CFR Blog: Macro and Markets—After the Fed
Now that the U.S. Federal Reserve has raised interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade, the central bank faces four major challenges in returning to normalized monetary policy, writes CFR's Robert Kahn.

New York Times Upshot Blog: Can the U.S. Remain an Island of Stability in the Global Economy?
As the United States sees major improvement in GDP and job growth, questions remain over how its economy will respond to the increasing instability, both economic and geopolitical, that is engulfing much of the rest of the world, writes the New York Times' Neil Irwin.

Immigration and Asylum

CFR Blog: Renewing America—Buried in the Omnibus, a Step Back for Immigration Reform
The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress in December 2015 demonstrates the dangers of piecemeal immigration measures, which attempt to solve one aspect of the U.S. immigration system in isolation from the others, argues CFR's Edward Alden.

The Atlantic: The New Crackdown on Migrant Families
Despite President Obama's 2014 executive order to defer the deportations of millions of undocumented immigrants to the United States, his administration has since undertaken aggressive raids on undocumented families who have arrived since then, angering many of his political allies, writes the Atlantic's Russell Berman.

New York Times: Paris Attacks Intensify Debate Over How Many Syrian Refugees to Allow Into the U.S.
This Times infographic delves into statistics on how many Syrian refugees have been resettled in the United States since 2012, where they have ended up, and how their numbers compare with other refugee populations.

Daily News: Syrian Refugees Are Not a Threat
Contrary to much of the current political rhetoric, asylum seekers from Syria are not a security threat and are subject to a long and rigorous screening process—one that is, indeed, too onerous, argues former UK foreign secretary and CEO of the International Rescue Committee David Miliband.

CNN: What We Need to Know About Refugees
The asylum-seekers fleeing Syria are largely families hoping to achieve education and a better life for their children in the face of likely death or enslavement at the hands of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, writes CFR's Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.

CFR Interactive: U.S. Postwar Immigration Policy
The history of U.S. efforts to admit refugees has long been subject to controversy, from WWII to the current plans to increase admittance of refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, as this timeline investigates.

CFR Backgrounder: The U.S. Child Migrant Influx
This Backgrounder explains the unprecedented wave of migrants, largely unaccompanied minors, who arrived in the United States from Mexico and a number of Central American countries beginning in 2014. 

The Islamic State and Global Terrorism

CFR Meeting: What to Do About Syria
In this discussion, moderated by CFR President Richard N. Haass, experts from the Hudson Institute, Georgetown University, and CFR explore the choices facing U.S. policymakers as they attempt to shape outcomes in the ongoing Syria conflict.

Foreign Affairs: Saudi Arabia's Plan in Syria
As the Saudi government faces off with its rivals, Russia and Iran, over the future of Syria, developing a more coherent Syrian opposition that can enforce a settlement is becoming an increasingly pressing task, writes the Atlantic Council's Bilal Y. Saab in Foreign Affairs.

RAND Corporation: A Peace Plan for Syria
Experts James Dobbins, Philip Gordon, and Jeffrey Martini outline a detailed process for achieving a peaceful settlement in the Syria conflict in this white paper for the Rand Corporation.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Russia and the U.S. in Syria—Waiting for the Other Side to Lose
The United States and Russia both hope that the other will become stuck in a quagmire in Syria, but waiting for these scenarios to play out will only deepen the crisis and make spillover violence into the rest of the Middle East more likely, writes Carnegie's Joseph Bahout.

Project Syndicate: Can America and Russia Cooperate in Syria?
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul outlines the steps that both Russia and the United States must take to ratchet down tensions and achieve common goals in Syria.

Center for Strategic and International Studies: Fear Versus Fact—Getting the Facts on Terrorism
U.S. policymakers and intelligence agencies must improve their understanding of the nature of the threat posed by radical groups in order to effectively combat it, argues Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

New York Times: Obama's Embrace of Drone Strikes Will Be a Lasting Legacy
Although President Obama reversed his predecessor's practices regarding rendition and harsh interrogation, his counterterror legacy will be defined by his embrace and expansion of drone strikes, writes CFR's Micah Zenko.

Guantanamo Bay Detention Center

Reuters: Pentagon Thwarts Obama's Effort to Close Guantanamo
With the Obama administration stepping up efforts to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, the defense department has allegedly resisted attempts to relocate detainees, report Charles Levinson and David Rohde for Reuters.

Wall Street Journal: Obama Leaves Himself Room to Defy Congress on Guantanamo
As President Obama seeks to create a comprehensive plan to defeat the self-proclaimed Islamic State, his administration has indicated that it may sidestep congressional restrictions on relocating Guantanamo Bay detainees, writes the Wall Street Journal's Carol Lee.

Defense One: Guantanamo Set to Transfer 17 Prisoners, A Milestone in Several Ways
The Pentagon's December 2015 decision to relocate seventeen detainees currently being held at Guantanamo Bay, bringing the total housed there to under one hundred, marks major progress in President Obama's push to close the facility, writes Defense One's Molly O'Toole.

The Atlantic: Ignoring Guantanamo Won’t Make It Go Away
The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has been a liability for U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts for over a decade, and policymakers should seize the opportunity to close it, argues Scott Beauchamp in the Atlantic.

Gun Violence

Barack Obama: Guns Are Our Shared Responsibility
New measures for both gun owners and manufacturers are needed in order to reduce gun violence and save lives, argues President Obama in this New York Times op-ed.

CFR Backgrounder: U.S. Gun Policy—Global Comparisons
This Backgrounder compares the U.S. culture of gun ownership and its suite of gun laws with the legislation in effect in Canada, Europe, and Japan.

Washington Post: Obama Details Executive Action on Gun Restrictions
President Obama has announced new gun safety measures that he will seek to implement without congressional approval, including expanded background checks, expanded mental-health funding, and additional licensing requirements, as the Washington Post explains in this report.

Economist: Barack Obama’s Despair Over Guns
President Obama's frustration over his administration's inability to persuade Congress to pass more robust gun safety measures points to a deeper cultural rift over the role of firearm ownership in American life, write the editors of the Economist.

Nuclear Nonproliferation

Bloomberg Quick Take: Iran’s Nuclear Program
Bloomberg's Jonathan Tirone summarizes the state of Iran's nuclear capabilities and the controversy over the 2015 nuclear accord led by the United States in this explainer.

Wall Street Journal: What’s Missing From Deal Supporters’ Talk of Restraining Iran? Specifics
Despite the Obama administration's assurances that the Iran deal will mean real consequences for Tehran's misbehavior, the deal fails to provide the kind of specific measures that would lend U.S. policy credibility in the region, argues CFR's Ray Takeyh in the Wall Street Journal.

National Interest: Round 2 of the Iran Deal Debate in America Has Begun
Though it narrowly won congressional approval in September 2015, the U.S.-led nuclear deal with Iran still faces major opposition from skeptical lawmakers, writes Daniel R. DePetris for the National Interest.

Washington Post: The Iran Nuclear Deal Is Actually Far From Over
Much of the concern over the nuclear deal has focused on Tehran's willingness to carry out the deal's immediate requirements, such as dismantling their centrifuges. But policymakers must start thinking about the consequences to come in ten years, when the deal expires, argues CFR's Amy Nelson in the Washington Post.

Foreign Policy: Obama in the Crosshairs After North Korean Blast
After North Korea undertook another nuclear weapons test in early 2016, the third during President Obama's tenure, the president is being criticized both for failing to punish Pyongyang as well as for being disengaged from multilateral talks with North Korea's leaders, writes Foreign Policy's John Hudson.

Energy and Environment

CFR Blog: Energy, Security, and Climate—Two Cheers for the Paris Agreement on Climate Change
The climate agreement reached by 195 countries in Paris in December 2015 deserves applause, but its ultimate effectiveness will only become clear in the coming months and years as countries begin to implement their emissions pledges, writes CFR's Michael Levi.

National Journal: Obama's Climate Bucket List
In the wake of the Paris climate talks, the Obama administration is gearing up for an aggressive energy agenda in his last year in office, including the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, which limits U.S. carbon emissions, as well as measures on efficiency and vehicle standards, writes National Journal's Jason Plautz.

Scientific American: How Far Does Obama's Clean Power Plan Go in Slowing Climate Change?
While President Obama's Clean Power Plan will significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the new regulations likely won't go far enough in limiting the rise in global temperatures, writes David Biello in Scientific American.

Time: Climate Change Is a National Security Problem
Former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel argues that climate change is a "global threat multiplier" that could exacerbate conflicts around the world, with potentially destabilizing consequences.

Washington Post: Obama’s Foreign Policy Goals Get a Boost From Plunging Oil Prices
The steep drop in global oil prices has served to bolster U.S. interests around the world, placing U.S. adversaries under greater economic stress while bolstering consumer spending and growth for allies like Europe and Japan, writes Washington Post White House correspondent Steven Mufson.

The Week: America's Oil Export Ban, Explained
The omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December 2015 included a provision to allow for the export of U.S. crude oil for the first time since 1975, but it remains unclear how much the change will effect either the oil industry or total carbon emissions, writes Jeff Spross for the Week.

More on This Topic

Op-Ed

GOP Hates Obama More Than a Nuclear Iran

Author: Leslie H. Gelb
Daily Beast

By telling Tehran not to negotiate with the president of the United States, the party threatens America’s status as global superpower.

Op-Ed

The Best Worst Quotes of 2014

Author: Micah Zenko
ForeignPolicy.com

The rise of purported threats such as Ebola and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, military intervention in Syria, and shifting military...