Obama's address: Where's foreign policy?
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
- Isobel Coleman: Obama mainly addressed domestic issues: economy, immigration, energy
- He spoke very little about and offered nothing much new on foreign policy, she says
- Coleman: He talked about ending Afghanistan War, spoke briefly about Iran, Syria, China
- Coleman: His reinvigorated free trade agenda seems to be the boldest move
Editor's note: Isobel Coleman is the author of "Paradise Beneath Her Feet" and a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
(CNN) -- President Obama's State of the Union address predictably focused on his domestic priorities.
Immigration reform, a laundry list of economic initiatives including infrastructure improvements (Fix it First), clean energy, some manufacturing innovation, a bit of educational reform and the rhetorical high point of his speech -- gun control.
As in years past, foreign policy made up only about 15% of the speech, but even within that usual limited attention, Tuesday night's address pointed to few new directions.
On Afghanistan -- America's longest war -- Obama expressed just a continued commitment to bringing the troops home, ending "our war" while theirs continues. On Iran, there was a single sentence reiterating the need for a diplomatic solution, which makes me think that a big diplomatic push is not likely. On North Korea, boilerplate promises to isolate the country further after its provocative nuclear test, and on Syria, a call to "keep the pressure" on the regime, which means more watching from the sidelines as the horror unfolds.
Notably, China was mentioned only twice -- once in the context of jobs, and another time with respect to clean energy. Nothing about managing what could very well be this administration's most vexing but critically important bilateral relationship.
Obama's call for a reinvigorated free trade agenda was his boldest foreign policy statement of the evening. He is right to note that free trade "supports millions of good-paying American jobs," but his pledge to pursue a "comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership" -- a free trade agreement with Europe -- will run into significant opposition from organized labor, especially given ongoing weaknesses in the economy.
Advocates on Obama call for gun control
Did Obama's State of the Union resonate?
Without fast track negotiating authority, the prospects for such a deal are minimal. Fast track authority, which allows the president to negotiate trade deals that Congress can then only approve or disapprove but not amend, expired in 2007, and it would require quite a breakthrough for Congress to approve it again. Still, despite these challenges, an agreement is worth pursuing.
Aside from a free trade agreement with Europe, there was little else in this State of the Union that hinted at foreign policy ambition. But unpredictable events have a way of derailing America's best laid plans to stay above the fray of the world's messiest problems. Who could have predicted just a few months ago that Mali would get a mention in the State of the Union? Iraq -- not uttered once tonight -- could re-emerge as a formidable crisis; Iran, Pakistan and North Korea also have tremendous potential to erupt.
While this administration seems determined to focus inward on getting America's economic and fiscal house in order, I doubt events in the rest of the world will be so accommodating.
Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.
Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Isobel Coleman
Part of complete coverage on
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
Les Abend says baffling as the lack of information on Malaysia 370's fate is, if the airplane fell out of the sky, it didn't happen as a result of only one factor
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1602 GMT (0002 HKT)
Andrea Purse says if Republicans want to win over women voters, they need to see them as drivers of economic growth.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Jim Martin says many of Pope Francis' words and deeds that have so surprised the world flow naturally from his Jesuit background
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1210 GMT (2010 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says deportees' attempt to gate-crash into the U.S. turned into "Operation Return to Sender."
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Beyonce's new video "Partition" sends a troubling message to girls who see her as a role model
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1545 GMT (2345 HKT)
Michael Oren says the rocket attacks by Islamic Jihad could trigger a bigger confrontation in the volatile Middle East.
March 13, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Justin Bieber was videotaped acting like a brat at his deposition. Danny Cevallos warns him that you only hurt yourself when you bicker with the questioning attorney.
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Jonathan Guryan and Jens Ludwig say the idea that poverty keeps adolescents from thriving academically is upended by a Chicago tutoring program that shows why educators shouldn't give up
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 2044 GMT (0444 HKT)
Peter Bergen says wild theories often flourish after a passenger jet disaster; it's best to wait for an investigation
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Sally Kohn went to the music festival and found out how guitars can save lives
March 12, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says Sheryl Sandberg's "Ban Bossy" campaign is better off if it tries to reclaim the positive aspect of the word.
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 1918 GMT (0318 HKT)
David Frum says the warning for conservatives is: Millennial attachment to the Democratic Party is not a phase.
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 1732 GMT (0132 HKT)
Brian Havel says passengers boarding a flight with stolen passports shows the need for global coordination and standardized procedures for travel documentation
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 1222 GMT (2022 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says efforts like Obama's My Brother's Keeper" are noble, but a key to helping young black men is fixing a justice system that disproportionately puts them in jail
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 1213 GMT (2013 HKT)
Julianne Wurm says people need to take charge of the avalanche of requests they get and set priorities
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
A man was convicted of raping a woman with Down syndrome, and the judge overturned it saying she didn't act like a victim. David Perry says all rape victims can be subject to this kind of dismissal
March 10, 2014 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says the investigation of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 will be long and complicated
March 11, 2014 -- Updated 1837 GMT (0237 HKT)
Alexander Pourbaix says the Keystone XL pipeline is safe and would provide the U.S. with oil from a reliable nation. He says it's the responsible path forward
March 10, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
David Wheeler says embarrassing and out-of-context Web ads are affecting nearly everyone who uses the Internet.
March 10, 2014 -- Updated 1441 GMT (2241 HKT)
Kirk Bloodsworth says DNA cleared him after eight years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He is living proof, he says, that America's system of capital punishment is broken beyond repair.
Today's five most popular stories