WASHINGTON — Seeking to focus on nation-building at home, President Barack Obama will use his State of the Union address to call for more spending on infrastructure and manufacturing, while also announcing the withdrawal of 34,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan within a year.
The highly-anticipated announcement on the next phase of the troop withdrawal will cut the size of the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan in half by next February. The drawdown puts the U.S. on pace to formally finish the protracted war by the end of 2014.
A senior administration official confirmed the size of the troop drawdown on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the announcement ahead of the president.
While Obama is expected to focus the bulk of his prime-time address to a joint session of Congress on the economy and job creation, other foreign policy priorities interjected in the hours before his speech. North Korea said it successfully detonated a nuclear device Tuesday in defiance of U.N. warnings, and the White House said Obama would make the case that the nuclear program had only further isolated the impoverished nation.
“The president will say that the only way North Korea will rejoin the world community is if they stop these threats and live up to their international obligations,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council.
Despite the pressing foreign policy concerns, it’s the economy that remains the top priority for many Americans and a potential vulnerability for the president as he seeks to pursue other second-term priorities.
The economic blueprint Obama will discuss Tuesday will have many of the elements Americans have heard before, with its embrace of manufacturing, energy development and education. And in that sense it is a reminder of what was unfulfilled at the end of Obama’s first term.