Shadow Government

A front-row seat to the Republicans' debate over foreign policy, including their critique of the Biden administration.

Big year for foreign policy — but little mention in Obama’s State of the Union

The foreign policy headline of the State of the Union speech is how far the president went to avoid generating a national security headline. In one of the longest of recent SOTU’s, the president’s speechwriters devoted some of the shortest space and least consequential language to national security. The only national security news item was ...

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

The foreign policy headline of the State of the Union speech is how far the president went to avoid generating a national security headline. In one of the longest of recent SOTU's, the president's speechwriters devoted some of the shortest space and least consequential language to national security.

The only national security news item was buried deep in a paragraph, masked with oblique language: the proposal to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Getting a Congress battered by health care and cap-and-trade to take up this controversial issue in an election year may require a larger expenditure of presidential political capital than Obama allotted in this one speech.

Most telling was the attempt to spin the Iran situation. Obama's Iran strategy has stalled. The diplomatic overtures, spurned. The international coalition, frayed and paralyzed. Even ardent supporters of Obama's Iran gambits are saying enough is enough. Most experts believe that 2010 will be the year of decision on Iran. Nothing in the SOTU speech hints that Obama's advisors are girding to prepare Americans and our partners for that debate.  

The foreign policy headline of the State of the Union speech is how far the president went to avoid generating a national security headline. In one of the longest of recent SOTU’s, the president’s speechwriters devoted some of the shortest space and least consequential language to national security.

The only national security news item was buried deep in a paragraph, masked with oblique language: the proposal to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Getting a Congress battered by health care and cap-and-trade to take up this controversial issue in an election year may require a larger expenditure of presidential political capital than Obama allotted in this one speech.

Most telling was the attempt to spin the Iran situation. Obama’s Iran strategy has stalled. The diplomatic overtures, spurned. The international coalition, frayed and paralyzed. Even ardent supporters of Obama’s Iran gambits are saying enough is enough. Most experts believe that 2010 will be the year of decision on Iran. Nothing in the SOTU speech hints that Obama’s advisors are girding to prepare Americans and our partners for that debate.  

This will be a very consequential year for U.S. foreign policy, but little of that is foreshadowed in this speech.

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy at Duke University, where he directs the Program in American Grand Strategy.

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