Peter Feaver has a piece at Shadow Government where he attacks the President for not focusing his State of the Union on foreign policy. This is a weak attack. Feaver, a former Bush administration official and currently a professor at Duke, writes:
The foreign policy headline of the State of the Union speech is how far the president went to avoid generating a national security headline. In one of the longest of recent SOTU’s, the president’s speechwriters devoted some of the shortest space and least consequential language to national security… This will be a very consequential year for U.S. foreign policy, but little of that is foreshadowed in this speech.
Feaver is right that foreign policy was not the focus of the speech, but the implication that the President is desperate to avoid a foreign policy “headline” is just bizarre and the idea that he needed to devote more time to foreign policy speech is wrong for a few reasons.
First, the President has very recently given many many prominent speeches about foreign policy. It is simply absurd to accuse the President of not focusing on, or talking enough about, foreign policy. Did Feaver not see last month when the President was in Oslo giving a lengthy speech solely on his vision of foreign affairs and national security when he received the Nobel Prize? And did he not see a month before when the President went to West Point to give a prime time address on his Afghanistan strategy. And finally, in the first few weeks of January the President talked at length about the failed underpants bomber and responding to terrorism. He hasn’t given a major domestic policy address, since his September speech to Congress.
Second, the country is going through a tremendous economic crisis. This is what the country really really cares about. This also happens to be what the political debate is focused on. Should the President have flipped the speech and talked for 2/3rds of the time about foreign policy, it would have been seen as politically tone-deaf for not addressing the concerns of the country.
Third, it is not like he didn’t talk about foreign policy. He hit on Afghanistan, terrorism, and Haiti. The President reconfirmed his commitment to withdraw troops from Iraq and indicated a new START treaty with Russia is imminent. He also highlighted the upcoming April Nuclear Security Summit that will seek to control loose nuclear materials. Finally, he expressed a commitment to human rights in Iran and warned Iran that they were facing sanctions. The President was no doubt checking the boxes in the foreign policy section, but that is to a large degree what the State of the Union is about – informing the public about what is going on.
As a foreign policy person, I would always like the President and the political class to focus more on my issue areas, but the fact is the President has spoken prominently and at length about foreign policy to the country. Feaver really seems to be complaining just to complain.