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
May 23, 2013 -- Updated 1220 GMT (2020 HKT)
Melissa Brymer says children need special attention to recover from the trauma of the tornado, and parents must be patient and calm
May 23, 2013 -- Updated 1138 GMT (1938 HKT)
Will Marshall says Tim Cook was grilled about Apple's tax practices but the real culprit is a dysfunctional tax system.
May 23, 2013 -- Updated 1549 GMT (2349 HKT)
Peter Bergen says there's a great deal of misinformation about the counterterrorism policies President Obama will address in a speech Thursday.
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1247 GMT (2047 HKT)
Two decades ago, Joshua Prager was one of more than 20 people in a terrible bus crash. The author revisits the scene to see how others have made sense of the event.
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Joshua Wurman says tornado deaths can be reduced, prediction and preparedness can be improved, but it's up to individuals to make sure they heed warnings and have a safe place to go.
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1457 GMT (2257 HKT)
Ruben Navarette says under Obama, a record number of immigrants have been deported. So why is his drive for immigration reform now in conflict with enforcement officials?
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1334 GMT (2134 HKT)
Nathan Gunter says Okies have learned to love the big sky, but also to watch it carefully for signs of trouble: When the sky betrays us, we cope by helping one another.
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1333 GMT (2133 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the heroics of teachers who shielded kids in the Oklahoma tornado remind us of what they do for our country
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Tornado researcher Louis Wicker says progress is being made on understanding and predicting extreme storms, but if you hear a warning, take cover immediately
May 21, 2013 -- Updated 1129 GMT (1929 HKT)
The masked henchmen grabbed three fingers on each of the Syrian political cartoonist's hands and pulled them back all the way -- so far that they cracked.
May 20, 2013 -- Updated 1522 GMT (2322 HKT)
Meg Urry says loss of the failing, planet-finding Kepler satellite would be huge for NASA--but one way or another, it's a matter of time before we find signs of life on other worlds
May 21, 2013 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Yahoo isn't buying a technology company so much as the community that uses it, Douglas Rushkoff says
May 21, 2013 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
Joseph Nye says it's far too early to write off the rest of the president's second term because of the IRS controversy, other issues
May 20, 2013 -- Updated 1132 GMT (1932 HKT)
Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton write that people pass up opportunities to spend their money to avoid disagreeable tasks
May 19, 2013 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Bob Greene on how 18th century Americans tried to make sense of the day with no sun
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
With guest Rep. Keith Ellison, John Avlon, Margaret Hoover and Dean Obeidallah discuss the president's scandal trifecta, hope for immigration and what Jolie's revelation means for women.
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
The press has turned on President Obama with a vengeance, writes Howard Kurtz
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 1801 GMT (0201 HKT)
Donna Brazile says our democracy is endangered, not by the Russians, North Korea, Iran or even terrorists. To quote Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Photographer Arne Svenson defends his show "Neighbors," portraits of the occupants of a building near him taken through their windows.
May 20, 2013 -- Updated 1337 GMT (2137 HKT)
Theater critic Kevin Williamson was kicked out of a play when he took the phone away from an audience member and threw it. He says it was worth it.
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 1425 GMT (2225 HKT)
Gil Welch says women must not panic over Angelina Jolie's mastectomies: 99% of women don't carry the BRCA1 gene.
May 18, 2013 -- Updated 0852 GMT (1652 HKT)
JR's "Inside Out" project brings public spaces alive with giant representations of people
May 17, 2013 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Roger Colinvaux says the IRS scandal is fundamentally about disclosure of donors, not tax-exempt status.
May 16, 2013 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
Maia Goodell says the military should use civil legal remedies on sexual assault cases.
Today's five most popular stories