Foreign Policy Fades From Focus in State of the Union

Jan 25, 2011 10:50pm

 Kirit Radia reports: During tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama spent just 13% of his time discussing foreign policy, less than his recent predecessors and the lowest percentage since the September 11 attacks. While foreign policy is rarely the focus of a president's State of the Union address, this year's speech continued a trend during Obama's presidency of not using the primetime platform to discuss matters overseas.    

In his two previous January addresses to Congress, President Obama only spent 11% of his time on foreign policy in 2010 and 10% in 2009, calculated as the percentage of words devoted to events abroad, defense, or international trade. In those speeches, he set aside the bulk of his time to discussing how he planned to get the United States out of the recession and stimulate job growth. To see what words President Obama uses most often in his speeches, click HERE. The lack of attention during the major annual speech is not for a lack of concerns abroad including two festering wars, unrest in Arab capitals, stalled Mideast peace talks, and a defiant Iran and North Korea who seek to expand their nuclear programs. President Obama's focus on foreign policy during the annual address is way down from that of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, who regularly used nearly half of his remarks to discuss foreign policy, namely his administration’s response to the September 11 attacks and regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After spending just 8% of his January 2001 address, during which he declared that the United States was “a country at peace,” President Bush coined the term “axis of evil” during his 2002 speech when he devoted 55% to discussing the response to the September 11 attacks. President Bush’s focus on foreign policy peaked in 2003 at 59%, when he used much of it to make the case for the invasion of Iraq later that year. Even in subsequent years foreign policy hovered around 40% of the speech. President Clinton, whose State of the Union addresses were usually 1000-2000 words longer than President George W. Bush’s, regularly devoted between 10-20% of his speeches on foreign policy topics like NATO’s post-Cold War role, arms control, international trade, and the conflicts in the Balkans. In his first address to Congress in 1993, however, President Clinton focused only 6% of his remarks on foreign policy just one year after President George H.W. Bush set aside 29% of his remarks to discuss the historic end to the Cold War and other foreign policy matters. Of course, that took time away from discussion of the country’s economic woes that eventually cost President Bush a second term in office. -Kirit Radia

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