March 07, 2024

CNAS Responds: State of the Union 2024

Following President Biden’s address to Congress at the 2024 State of the Union, CNAS experts analyze key policy points from the speech and weigh in on the state of U.S. national security from their respective areas of expertise.

All quotes may be used with attribution. To arrange an interview, email Alexa Whaley at

Paul Scharre, Executive Vice President and Director of Studies:

President Biden opened the State of the Union (SOTU) with an impassioned plea for arms to support Ukraine, drawing parallels to World War II and the Cold War. He addressed Putin directly, stating “We will not walk away.” Yet with aid to Ukraine stalled in Congress, there is a very real risk that the United States might walk away. The United States remains indispensable for resolving the conflicts and tensions unfolding in Europe, the Indo-Pacific, and the Middle East, yet divisions at home undermine America’s ability to project security abroad. To be strong overseas, America must first be united at home. If the United States disengages from the world, the consequences will be worsening crises and less security for the United States and the world.

Carrie Cordero, Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow:

President Biden led the SOTU by highlighting fundamental threats to democracy: Russia’s war on Ukraine and the January 6, 2021 effort to prevent the transfer of power in the United States, which the president described as the “greatest threat to U.S. democracy since the Civil War.” This year’s SOTU came in the midst of a crisis of global pressures on existing democracies around the world: in particular, Ukraine, the target of a two-year long war of aggression by Russia, and Israel, the target of a vicious terrorist attack by Hamas last October. American support of these countries is essential to their survival, but the administration has struggled to effectively and convincingly communicate why support (military, financial, and moral) is in U.S. national security interests. Moving forward, it will be important for President Biden to draw a clearer line from defending Ukrainian democracy from attack to defending U.S. national security.

Without saying it explicitly, by focusing on the importance of defending democracy, one important goal of President Biden’s address was to demonstrate—for Americans and for the world—that democracy delivers. A crucial component of demonstrating that democracy works is its ability to provide safety and security for its citizens. Failing to perform this essential competency of a functioning government opens the door for political leaders and voices who prey on fear, taking the opportunity to assure voters that they will take control and secure society. Demonstrating his commitment to provide these basic safety functions of a democracy, the president called on Congress to pass the border security bill that Republicans negotiated and subsequently abandoned. He also highlighted his creation of an office of gun violence prevention and called for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Further, he mentioned the need to continue to bring down violent crime. To date, though, the scourge of gun violence and mass shootings has not been effectively neutralized through legislation and policies, and there is little indication that Republicans will change course on the border security bill.

Katherine Kuzminski, Deputy Director of Studies and Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program:

While the President nodded to efforts underway to support service members, veterans, and their families, he missed an opportunity to highlight key advances rolled out by his administration over the past year. Chief among those initiatives was the Executive Order on Advancing Economic Security for Military and Veteran Spouses, Military Caregivers, and Survivors released last June. Just this week, the Department of Veteran Affairs further took a monumental step toward closing the military spouse employment gap by signing on to the 4+1 Commitment, a public-private partnership to drive military spouse employment and spearheaded by the First Lady.

The President further missed an opportunity to drive home the value of military service at a critical moment in the 50-year history of the All-Volunteer Force. While the Department of Defense and the military services are actively addressing the root causes of recent military recruitment challenges of recent years, the conversation about the value of service requires White House vision, leadership, and inspiration.

Jonathan Lord, Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program:

In his State of the Union address, President Biden reaffirmed his continued support for the State of Israel and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. While he reminded Americans that he was the first U.S. President to travel to Israel in a time of war, he also chastised Israel’s government for not doing more. Biden’s particular emphasis was on the need to enable the free flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, where 2 million internally-displaced Gazans range from being food insecure to subsisting on the brink of starvation.

The president highlighted U.S. efforts underway. Last week, Biden directed the U.S. military to begin airdropping food to Gaza. While an important step, the act was more symbolic than impactful, as every C-130 flight only carries roughly one truck’s worth of aid. His announcement tonight that the military would construct a pier off the shore of Gaza facilitating aid shipments by sea has the potential to increase the flow of aid by orders of magnitude. While emphasizing the expanded U.S. role, the president further reaffirmed his commitment that there would be no U.S. boots on the ground.

Left unanswered is the question of who will disburse this aid to Gaza’s desperate population. Israeli military operations have left a security and governance vacuum throughout large swaths of the Gaza Strip. The security vacuum is currently seen most acutely in north Gaza, where Hamas insurgents, criminal gangs, and vigilantes have reportedly sprung up to fill the void. The insecurity and inability to effectively distribute aid may become more acute as the Israel Defense Forces make preparations to close on Hamas’s last redoubt in Rafah.

While the president spoke of the administration’s efforts to negotiate a ceasefire, his staff was considerably more direct on a call with press earlier today. Senior White House officials cited Hamas’s unwillingness to account for and agree to the release of women, children, the sick, and the elderly as the major impediment for a ceasefire. It isn’t clear why President Biden omitted that point in his speech, though one could speculate that perhaps it stemmed from a concern that such direct pressure on Hamas by the president could backfire. In the meantime, the clock ticks toward Ramadan, at which time Hamas-directed violence will likely surge absent a ceasefire deal.

Finally, Biden made quick mention of the administration’s efforts to contain Iran, pointing to the U.S.-led international coalition to neutralize maritime threats posed by the Houthis in Yemen. Despite military action by the U.S. military and coalition partners, Houthi strikes on commercial ships have continued with deadly effect. Just this week, three sailors were killed by a Houthi strike on a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. Absent from the president’s remarks, and seemingly from U.S. policy, is a plan to impose greater costs on Iran for its continuing efforts to supply the Houthis with lethal aid and intelligence.

Tonight, President Biden’s remarks provided a true reflection of his strongly held beliefs about the importance of preserving and defending the world’s only Jewish state while conveying an urgent need to do more to help Palestinians. Yet also accurately reflected in tonight’s speech—in the words said and unsaid—is that the Biden administration has the tactical means to mitigate the threat of Iran’s proxies, but not much else. The larger question of how to stop Iran from animating their proxies, or Tehran’s potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon, were absent from this speech—and, more concerningly, possibly from the administration’s policy.

All CNAS experts are available for interviews. To arrange one, contact Alexa Whaley at​​​​​​​.


  • Paul Scharre

    Executive Vice President and Director of Studies

    Paul Scharre is the Executive Vice President and Director of Studies at CNAS. He is the award-winning author of Four Battlegrounds: Power in the Age of Artificial Intelligence...

  • Carrie Cordero

    Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow

    Carrie Cordero is the Robert M. Gates Senior Fellow and General Counsel at CNAS. Her research and writing interests focus on homeland security and intelligence community overs...

  • Katherine L. Kuzminski

    Deputy Director of Studies, Director, Military, Veterans, and Society Program

    Katherine L. Kuzminski (formerly Kidder) is the Deputy Director of Studies, and the Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society (MVS) Program at CNAS. Her research special...

  • Jonathan Lord

    Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

    Jonathan Lord is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security program at CNAS. Prior to joining CNAS, Lord served as a professional staff member for the House Arme...