Foreign Policy Disappearing From the State of the Union

Listening to President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address last night, anyone interested in, say, Afghanistan found themselves waiting through talk of jobs. And waiting through calls for financial reform. And waiting through demands for clean, nuclear energy (really?). Not until more than 50 minutes into the speech did the increasingly perilous war pop up, and with it came a draining of enthusiasm from the packed House chamber.

In fact, the president dedicated only 11 minutes of his nearly 69-minute speech to matters of foreign policy. If you want to get technical (which we’ve done), just 1,193 of the 7,309 words he spoke had to do with matters beyond the country's shores. That equals 16 percent. With the help of a great site called, which allows you to visualize speeches with a word cloud, here’s what Obama talked about:

Or, we can take the numbers for what they are: evidence that presidents are talking about foreign affairs less and less.

For those of us who did stay up late last night waiting for that talk about Afghanistan, its low priority certainly signals that the White House won’t be trumpeting the triumphs and travails every day coming out of South Asia. But the reality is that 30,000 reinforcements are hustling into theater. The generals are on board. In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton missed the big night in Washington because she’s doing the arduous work of negotiating with NATO allies and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in London about how to keep the new war strategy on the rails. And ultimately the war played low last night for one main reason: decisions have already been made. And for better or worse, they’ll be all over the agenda this year.

(** Here are the total number of words and the number dedicated to foreign policy for each speech. Bush in 2003: 5,340 / 3,247 = 61 percent. Bush in 2007: 5,500 / 2,966 = 54 percent. Obama in 2010: 7,309 / 1,193 = 16 percent.)

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