This is not nit-picking by Rubin. Not an attempt to make Obama look bad by focusing on unimportant phrasing. Obama's phrasing is very important indeed. For he seeks to convince the nation that under his leadership "the" enemy of the US, al-Qaida, has been so significantly weakened it is no longer a major threat. But to deny the threat that al-Qaeda continues to present is to do the nation a severe disservice.
Obama also said:
"A year ago, Gadhafi was one of the world’s longest-serving dictators, a murderer with American blood on his hands. Today, he is gone."
"Hm, someone in Libya with 'American blood on his hands'? Glad there’s nobody like that around anymore!"
To Obama's statement that:
"And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed and that human dignity cannot be denied."
"Oh, I’ll bet that a lot of Syrians are going to learn that human dignity can be denied in the face of ethnic massacres and a new regime where the Muslim Brotherhood rules and Salafists run around free to do as they please."
About US leadership and the American relationship with Israel, Obama said:
"The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to the Americas are deeper. Our iron-clad commitment — and I mean iron-clad — to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history."
"Really? That’s not what I hear from people all over the world. It is the absence of American leadership they feel, sometimes to their great cost. Ask the Poles, and the Czechs, and the Saudis, and the democratic oppositionists in Iran and Syria, and so on. Ask the Peruvians and the Colombians if they feel American leadership is protecting them from Venezuela and other radical forces in the region.
"It is true that military cooperation with Israel is good—which is to say, normal not the greatest in history—but what Israeli leader believes that Obama can be relied on? The ones I speak to usually say something like this: 'I never thought I’d see the day when we couldn’t depend on America.'
"... let’s be frank here: Since Obama believes he knows better what Israel security needs are than do its leaders then anything he does is 'pro-Israel' even if it is against Israel’s will."
How cheap words are, especially in the mouth of Obama. I've included a solid part of this piece because the analysis is important for anyone who thinks seriously about the big issues. I could go on, but you can read the full article for yourself:
"President Obama’s choice of one of the most prominent 'Iran doves' in American public life as his new Defense Secretary is also being read in Tehran as a sign of the President’s thinking...
"The announcement of more troop withdrawals from Afghanistan in last night’s SOTU will confirm the already widespread view in Tehran that the U.S. is in retreat and that if Iran hangs tough it can get what it wants.
"From Iran’s point of view the Administration also seems to be standing down in Syria. A year ago Washington was full of tough talk: demands that Assad relinquish power, unambiguous statements that he “must go.” America was huffing and puffing—but folded like a cheap suit when it came time to back words with deeds. From an Iranian point of view this sends two very clear signals. First, don’t worry about threats and rhetoric from this White House. When they utter threats, they are just making noise. Assad 'must go,' Iran 'must stop' its nuclear program. This is just chit-chat; it won’t be followed up by anything other than diplomatic notes.
"...the fact that the President didn’t make the confrontation with Iran a centerpiece of his State of the Union message will be read in Iran as yet another signal. Their nuclear program isn’t a high enough priority for this President to lead to war.