The chair of the House Armed Services Committee disputed President Obama’s effort to minimize national security challenges during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
During a speech at the National Press Club Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R., Texas) rebuffed Obama’s remark that individuals who argue that America is becoming weaker are spewing "political hot air."
"The world is more dangerous today than it was in 2009. Despite the president’s claim last night, that is not just ‘hot air’; that is reality. But, it is certainly unlikely that the Obama administration will do anything in its last year to change that situation or to alter that trajectory," Thornberry said, according to prepared remarks released by the Armed Services committee.
"No president is irrelevant, but the country and much of the world are moving on. That means that the next commander-in-chief, whoever he or she may be, will inherit a whale of a mess on his or her first day."
During his address to the nation the previous night, Obama criticized people who question America’s strength in the face of increasing threats from other world powers.
"I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on earth," Obama said. "When it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead–they call us."
Thornberry described the current state of the world as the "most complex, difficult national security environment our nation has ever faced," citing North Korea’s nuclear tests, Russia’ continued intervention in Ukraine, the rise of ISIS, and Iran’s detention of 10 American sailors Tuesday as immediate concerns for the United States.
"No country is better positioned to continue being one of ‘history’s winners’ than the U.S.," Thornberry continued, quoting military historian Max Boot. "But we cannot assume that it will be so; we have to make deliberate decisions to ensure that we are still able to be this unique force for good in the world. For Congress, that means deciding to provide the funding needed to defend the country, deciding what capability and authorities we need, and overseeing the activities of the executive branch."
The Texas lawmaker also challenged Obama’s claim during his final State of the Union address that "no nation dares to attack us or our allies because they know that’s the path to ruin."
"That has been true for a long time. Unfortunately, that is changing. Our committee has spent more time over the last year in classified and unclassified sessions on the issue of our eroding technological superiority than on any other issue," Thornberry said.
He emphasized the need for developments in the cyber domain and improvements to the nation’s nuclear deterrent to more effectively protect against threats from countries who display advanced technologies.
Further, Thornberry warned that, if the U.S. shrinks from its position on the national stage because of budget restraints or other hurdles, another superpower will step up to "fill the vacuum."
"If we do not have the ability to continue to be that force for good, or if we are unwilling to play that role, someone else will step in to fill the vacuum. That’s what seems to be happening all around the world," Thornberry said. "I think we take for granted the world which we have helped build since World War II and the benefits it has provided to us and to mankind. Too many of us assume that human progress inevitably marches forward."
"For the sake of ourselves, our children, and those around the world, I pray that we answer history’s call in fulfilling the obligation it has placed on the United States of America," Thornberry said.