The list of what he didn’t mention is much, much longer than what he did: Egypt, Lebanon, the United Nations, the stalled peace talks, Hugo Chavez, the Green Movement, Syria, China (except as an economic competitor), Cuba, human rights outside of Tunisia, Russian occupation of Georgia, the trial of Sept. 11 terrorists or passage of the Panama or Colombia free trade agreements. ~Jennifer Rubin
As I said yesterday, this wasn’t a State of the Empire speech, and it wouldn’t have made any sense for Obama to spend time on most of these topics. My guesses on what he would mention proved to be mostly right, because I assumed that the focus of the address would be elsewhere. As it happens, Obama did mention the Panamanian and Colombian FTAs, but we can be fairly sure that at least one of those isn’t going anywhere (and for good reason).
Obama and his advisors must have judged that the public isn’t interested in and doesn’t care about foreign affairs very much, and the public is interested in such things only insofar as these matters relate to American security as the public understands it, and they are right. Let me suggest that the Russian military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia isn’t one of the first one hundred things in the world that relate to American security. Actually, it doesn’t relate to American security at all, but accepting this is a bit of reach for people who think that everything in the world is properly the business of the United States government. The official administration line is that it opposes the Russian “occupation” of these territories, and that’s much more than I would like and it is as much as anyone can expect them to say about it.
On a few of these issues, the State of the Union address is hardly a good place for discussing them. In the past, addresses that focused heavily on foreign affairs have often included statements that helped pave the way for extraordinarily bad policies (e.g., the “axis of evil” section of the 2002 SOTU). One advantage of saying relatively little about foreign policy in the address is that the President doesn’t step all over ongoing diplomatic and political efforts by making cheap rhetorical flourishes. On most of the issues, Obama had no reason to mention them last night. Chavez? Syria? The Green Movement? Really? Why would he mention any of these? Josh Rogin has his own list of things Obama didn’t mention, and for the most part my response to that list is the same. Can you imagine anything less interesting to most Americans than talking about Belarus? While we’re at it, why didn’t he talk about Polish visa waivers? Oh, right, because this isn’t a State Department briefing.