Cross-posted from the Council on Foreign Relations.
Last night's address was noteworthy for many reasons, but one reason has largely been overlooked: It was the first post, post-9/11 State of the Union speech given by an American president. Foreign policy and national security did not merit a mention for an hour, and then received only ten minutes. This bias reflects the economic and political rationales for focusing on the economy and jobs, but it also reflects the relative calm in the world.
It would have been a very different speech had the Detroit bomber proved less incompetent, had casualties in either Iraq or Afghanistan been higher, or had either Iran or North Korea crossed an additional nuclear threshold or committed a particularly threatening act. Indeed, it is likely more a question of when than if the United States will have to cope with a successful terrorist incident, increased casualties in one or more theaters, or a new nuclear challenge.
If there is a criticism to be made of last night's speech, it is that, with its focus on the domestic economy, it did not prepare the American people for any of these possibilities. One prediction: This president will not have the luxury of devoting so little attention to the world in future States of the Union, if only because the state of the world is unlikely to permit it.