Even though the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak is an ally of the United States, it would be jarring if Obama makes no mention of this unrest in his speech tonight, or in some other public statement. ~Michael Scherer
I would be surprised if the word Egypt appears anywhere in the State of the Union tonight. For one thing, if he mentions Egypt he will almost certainly feel compelled to mention his Cairo speech, and a lot of administration policy matches up pretty badly with many of the statements in the Cairo speech (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing!). Probably everyone in attendance knows that Obama has not made a priority of human rights or political reform in his dealings with Mubarak, so what does Obama say about the protests? When it has had to choose between not inserting itself into a foreign political crisis and “speaking out,” the administration has more or less consistently chosen the former. That was the right decision regarding Iran in 2009, and it was the right decision on Tunisia this winter.
People can call it neglect if they want (I happen to think saying as little as possible is wise), but the other plausible alternative is declaring some sort of support for protesters as they are chanting for the downfall of an allied government. If he chooses not to undermine Mubarak in public, Wilsonians here will berate him for it, but he will have made the wiser decision. If he throws his weight behind the protests, anything that happens in Egypt will be linked (fairly or unfairly) to his statement, and most of the possible outcomes are not good for the protesters or for Obama. It makes sense that Obama would say as little as he can about Egypt, and he may not have much to say about Tunisia, either, and there is nothing right now that requires him to address it in this speech.
Looking back at the 2010 SOTU, we should remember that foreign policy and foreign affairs did not make up a large part of the speech (these subjects accounted for just nine paragraphs). That was appropriate, since the speech is intended to be a statement about the state of the United States, and that is what we should expect to hear again tonight. Those looking for a State of the Empire speech will be disappointed. Last year, Obama touched on terrorism, Afghanistan, the military, arms control with the Russians, Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, the G20, and Haitian reconstruction.
Now that New START has been ratified, we should expect to hear much more about that this year, as well as other areas of cooperation with Russia (e.g., the 123 agreement). Obama will probably also mention the Korean free trade agreement, and coming on the heels of the state dinner with Hu Jintao he may make some general comments about the U.S.-China relationship. We can expect some boasting about U.N. sanctions on Iran. If Obama refers to any current events, my guess is that he is more likely to mention the airport bombing in Moscow in order to stress the importance for international security cooperation (and, however implausibly, try to justify airport security procedures here in the U.S.). As policy on Israel-Palestine has more or less completely flopped, Obama may mention it, but it won’t receive much attention in the speech. Since this is the year that U.S. forces are supposed to leave Iraq at the end of 2011, and the mid-2011 deadline for Afghanistan has been pushed back, Obama will probably emphasize the former and skirt around the delay in withdrawing from Afghanistan.