Americans should be heartened by the core message of the first State of the Union address of President Barack Obama's second term: It is time to concentrate on nation-building at home.
That means finally extricating ourselves from America's longest war the bloody struggle in Afghanistan. The big news from Obama's speech Tuesday night was his announcement that 34,000 of the 66,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan will come home by next February, a major milestone toward handing over security to the Afghan government by the end of 2014.
The measured pace for withdrawal is a nod to military commanders, who want a sizable force for the "fighting season" this spring and summer. They don't want to squander the hard-won gains against al-Qaida and the Taliban and don't want to ask too much too soon of the Afghan military. Most of all, they don't want to put U.S. soldiers in unnecessary danger.
The president himself made that point Monday when he presented the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for military valor, to former Staff Sgt. Clinton Romesha. "Our troops should not ever be put in a position where they have to defend the indefensible," Obama said.
Romesha who grew up in Modoc County and is only the fourth living recipient of the medal for combat in Iraq or Afghanistan was recognized for his bravery in repelling an assault by a much larger Taliban force on a remote Army outpost in Afghanistan. Eight of his comrades were killed in the 2009 attack. More than 2,000 U.S. troops have given their lives in the 11-plus years of war. Their sacrifice, and that of their families, can never be forgotten.
Ending the war in Afghanistan will free resources and attention for badly needed renewal at home. That includes, as Obama outlined, smart investments in education, clean energy, infrastructure and manufacturing to create good jobs and expand the middle class.
As the president said, "The American people don't expect government to solve every problem. They don't expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation's interests above party."