Sometimes, less is more. And sometimes, less is, well, just less.
In "SOTU 2," as the president's annual State of the Union speech was known in Washington, foreign policy was literally an afterthought. President Obama didn't get around to even mentioning foreign policy until about eight minutes before the end of the address.
In a quick survey of the globe tacked onto a speech that was intently focused on America's economic and international competitiveness, President Obama discussed the nation's foreign policy challenges in 12 short paragraphs at the end of his pedestrian, but politically effective speech.
There were no surprises, no new announcements on the foreign policy front, as the White House clearly intended. But the absence of foreign policy themes was somewhat surprising, given the tumultuous events that have been rocking the world.
While the President lauded the 10 million Tunisians for overthrowing their government –"the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator," he said – no mention was made of the gross corruption of Tunisia's dictator about whom his diplomats had complained candidly and vigorously in secret cables published earlier this year by Wikileaks.
Moreover, although President Obama reiterated his determination to continue taking the war on terror "to Al Qaeda and their allies abroad," he did not even mention the shocking terrorist attack at Moscow's international airport the day before he spoke. Some 35 people were killed and over 125 people were wounded in that attack.
President Obama mostly restated his well known foreign policy positions, especially on America's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As he had pledged as a candidate, "the Iraq war is coming to an end" and 100,000 American troops had left the country "with their heads held high," Obama said.
As for Afghanistan, the president reiterated his determination to prevent the Taliban from "reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people" and to "deny Al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11." He also vowed to work with 50 countries to transition to an Afghan lead in that war. Finally, he repeated his pledge to begin bringing "our troops home," starting in July.
Compare this to the state of his war survey that America's Afghan commander, General David Petraeus, unveiled on the day of the President's address. In his status report on Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus said that while "impressive progress" had been made in a mission of "enormous importance" not just to America and Afghanistan, but to the region and the world, the Taliban and "other enemies of security" in Afghanistan would continue to "fight hard." "There is much hard work to be done in 2011," he said. Insurgent advances in the north and mountainous northeast had to be "halted and reversed." While he referred to the "commencement this year of transition of security tasks in select areas to Afghan forces," he said the pace of that transition would be determined by "conditions on the ground."
Gen. Petraeus, unlike the President, never mentioned a troop reduction in July.