He briefly touted the nuclear deal and the opening to Cuba, and he even called for Congress to lift the embargo. Obama also called on Congress to pass the TPP. He spoke at some length about the war on ISIS, but didn’t say anything about the campaign that we haven’t heard many times before. He did slip in a rebuff to Christie and other alarmists that want to describe the fight against jihadists as “WWIII.” Remarkably, he also cited his Syria policy as an example of his “smarter approach” to the world, but I don’t think anyone on either side of the spectrum buys that his handling of Syria has been smart or effective. He omitted Afghanistan entirely from the speech, since I suppose there’s no way for him to spin the fact that the war will continue beyond his presidency despite his claims that he “ended” it. He avoided any mention of Libya, since there is nothing he could say about it that would make the intervention there seem like anything other than a debacle, and naturally said nothing about the war on Yemen that his administration is supporting.
To my surprise, he told Congress to “take a vote” on the war on ISIS. This was odd since the White House position is that it doesn’t need a new authorization and will keep fighting the war regardless of what Congress does. Obama restated that position again in the speech. The only reason Obama gave for why Congress should have a vote on the war is to “send a message to our troops and the world,” and that’s not very compelling. Since the Senate leadership has no interest in debating or voting on a new authorization, there probably won’t be a vote, and Obama has made it clear that it doesn’t really matter to him whether Congress ever votes on this or not.