Obama’s foreign policy — in words

What foreign policy-related words are you most likely to hear during tonight’s State of the Union address? Since the economy is the dominant issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, you may not be hearing all that many. But to answer the question, we sifted through President Obama’s major foreign-policy speeches, talks at multilateral events such ...

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

What foreign policy-related words are you most likely to hear during tonight's State of the Union address? Since the economy is the dominant issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, you may not be hearing all that many. But to answer the question, we sifted through President Obama's major foreign-policy speeches, talks at multilateral events such as G-8 and G-20 summits, remarks with foreign leaders, and pivotal addresses such as the State of the Union, generating word clouds for every six months of the Obama presidency (click on the images below to expand). One thing is certain: Based on the word clouds below, Obama is definitely a "people" person.

Jan. 20, 2009 - June 30, 2009

Within days of entering office, President Obama gave a speech at the State Department announcing the confirmation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the appointments of George Mitchell and the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as special envoys, and the closing of Guantánamo Bay. In April, Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to announce the beginning of nuclear arms talks that would culminate in the New START treaty in 2010. Several days after that meeting, Obama delivered remarks in the Turkish parliament about the economy and the Middle East. In June, Obama gave his much-hyped speech in Cairo about America's relationship with the Muslim world.

What foreign policy-related words are you most likely to hear during tonight’s State of the Union address? Since the economy is the dominant issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, you may not be hearing all that many. But to answer the question, we sifted through President Obama’s major foreign-policy speeches, talks at multilateral events such as G-8 and G-20 summits, remarks with foreign leaders, and pivotal addresses such as the State of the Union, generating word clouds for every six months of the Obama presidency (click on the images below to expand). One thing is certain: Based on the word clouds below, Obama is definitely a “people” person.

Jan. 20, 2009 – June 30, 2009

Within days of entering office, President Obama gave a speech at the State Department announcing the confirmation of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the appointments of George Mitchell and the late Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as special envoys, and the closing of Guantánamo Bay. In April, Obama met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to announce the beginning of nuclear arms talks that would culminate in the New START treaty in 2010. Several days after that meeting, Obama delivered remarks in the Turkish parliament about the economy and the Middle East. In June, Obama gave his much-hyped speech in Cairo about America’s relationship with the Muslim world.


July 1, 2009 – Dec. 31, 2009

Obama began July at his first G-8 meeting in L’Aquila, Italy, where he delivered remarks on the environment and global economy. He later addressed the U.N. General Assembly for the first time on the topic of multilateralism and spoke at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on the administration’s strategy for the war in Afghanistan, which included a troop surge. A week later, Obama accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in Stockholm.



Jan. 1, 2010 – June 30, 2010

The new year brought the devastating earthquake in Haiti and Obama’s first State of the Union address, in which he spoke at length about the economy and the need to pass health care reform. The president held meetings with a host of leaders including India’s Manmohan Singh and China’s Hu Jintao, and signed the New START treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. In June, he placed additional sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program and gave a speech at the G-20 meeting in Toronto in which he emphasized the need for cooperation in responding to the churning global economic crisis.


July 1, 2010 – Dec. 31, 2010

A light summer turned into a busy fall as Obama delivered his second speech at the U.N. General Assembly, which focused more on international security and terrorism than his previous address. Shaking off a dismal midterm election for the Democrats, Obama flew to Asia where he spoke in front of the Indian parliament. The president capped off 2010 by announcing a free trade agreement with South Korea, which Congress passed the following year.

Jan. 1, 2011 – June 30, 2011

The first six months of 2011 were consumed by the Arab Spring uprisings that toppled the governments of Egypt and Tunisia. Obama’s second State of the Union address primarily revolved around increasing American competiveness and jobs. He addressed the Arab Spring directly in May — the same month that he went on television to announce the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Obama also outlined his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at an AIPAC Policy conference after his peace proposal angered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

July 1, 2011 – Dec. 31, 2011

During his third address to the U.N. General Assembly, Obama revisited the Arab Spring and spoke about how the world had changed since the 9/11 attacks (Muammar al-Qaddafi died a month later). In November, Obama traveled to southern France to meet with the G-20 on the global financial crisis. Several subsequent speeches highlighted the administration’s strategic pivot toward Asia, including remarks at Trans-Pacific Partnership and APEC meetings and an address to the Australian parliament, during which Obama announced a new U.S. Marine base in northern Australia.



Kedar Pavgi is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

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