In State of the Union, Trump Highlights Pushes for Peace in Korea, Afghanistan

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington,Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington,Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In a speech that stressed bipartisanship and compromise for the good of the Republic, President Donald Trump highlighted a need to pull out of the longtime war in Afghanistan, seek for peace on the Korean Peninsula, and return home from Syria.

"Great nations do not fight endless wars," Trump said, in one of the most memorable lines from his annual State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Following a partial government shutdown over which tensions between Trump and Democratic leadership became white-hot, the president took a different tack with the address, highlighting progress in the economy and foreign policy and defense and calling on the nation to come together.

On the Korean peninsula, Trump credited himself with preserving peace with the North Korean dictatorship. That push for peace, he said, would continue, with a second round of talks between Trump and Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the end of the month.

"If I had not been elected President of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea," Trump said. "Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one. And Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam."

Absent from the speech was mention of Space Force, Trump's proposed 6th branch of the military. He did, however, salute a special guest of honor: Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon.

"This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets," Trump said, to a standing ovation.

While a significant portion of the speech did focus on the president's efforts to shore up the southern border from illegal immigrants and his stated need for a wall, there were no news announcements regarding an ongoing deployment of active-duty troops to the border.

"I have ordered another 3,750 troops to our southern border to prepare for the tremendous onslaught," Trump said, echoing a Pentagon announcement made days earlier. "This is a moral issue ... Tonight, I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country."

Funding for Trump's proposed border wall was the primary point of contention that led to the appropriations impasse. The government reopened after a historically long closure at the end of January, but will shut down again Feb. 15 if a budget agreement is not reached. The president has hinted at plans to declare a national emergency if the wall goes unfunded.

"This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier -- not just a simple concrete wall," Trump said in his speech. "It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and as these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way down."

Beyond the nation's borders, Trump called for troops who had fought hard to return home.

"Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years. In Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 7,000 American heroes have given their lives," he said. "More than 52,000 Americans have been badly wounded. We have spent more than $7 trillion in the Middle East."

He held up the recently begun negotiations with the Taliban as a sign of change, saying there might be a political solution to "this long and bloody conflict."

"As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism," he said. "We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement -- but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace."

In the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Trump in his 2018 speech pronounced the Islamist militant group nearly 100 percent defeated. With the fight continuing a year later, he remained sanguine, hailing the accomplishments of the anti-ISIS coalition and echoing his earlier calls to pull U.S. troops out of Syria.

"When I took office, ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria. Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty killers," he said. "Now, as we work with our allies to destroy the remnants of ISIS, it is time to give our brave warriors in Syria a warm welcome home."

How that pullout from Syria will proceed is unclear; earlier Tuesday, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, said Trump had not consulted with him before announcing in December his plans to pull roughly 2,000 troops out of the country.

Trump also cheered his success in securing an increase in defense spending on the order of $100 billion by NATO. He also mentioned his recent decision to pull the United State out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, in response to stated Russian violation of terms. Russia has since also pulled out of the treaty.

"Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others, or perhaps we can't --- in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far," he said.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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