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City of Brass

2010 State of the Union speech (transcript):
sotu2010.png
2011 State of the Union speech (transcript):
sotu2011.png
Looking at the cloud from last year, we see that they are someone similar. Both speeches show an emphasis on “people” and “jobs”, but there’s more emphasis on “government” and more importantly, “new”. The general sense from these clouds is that the President is maintaining his focus on economic issues, and now trying to make the case that a new approach – one involving more government – is necessary. 
Here at COB of course my interest in the speech is less domestic politics and economics, and more foreign policy and muslim-relations related, and to that end the clouds from both years show virtually no real mention of these issues. 
Of course, China and India got mentioned in the context of economic innovation and competitiveness, which was arguably the theme of the speech. But the speech went at maglev-rail speed through the foreign policy bit, after a segueway from reorganizing government for the 21st century. Here’s the foreign policy section in full:

    And so we must defeat determined enemies, wherever they are, and build coalitions that cut across lines of region and race and religion.  And America’s moral example must always shine for all who yearn for freedom and justice and dignity.  And because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.

      Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high.  (Applause.)  American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed.  This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq.  America’s commitment has been kept.  The Iraq war is coming to an end.  (Applause.)

      Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us.  Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies.  And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.  (Applause.)    

      We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad.  In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces.  Our purpose is clear:  By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

      Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency.  There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance.  But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them.  This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead.  And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home.  (Applause.)

      In Pakistan, al Qaeda’s leadership is under more pressure than at any point since 2001.  Their leaders and operatives are being removed from the battlefield.  Their safe havens are shrinking.  And we’ve sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe:  We will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you.  (Applause.)

      American leadership can also be seen in the effort to secure the worst weapons of war.  Because Republicans and Democrats approved the New START treaty, far fewer nuclear weapons and launchers will be deployed.  Because we rallied the world, nuclear materials are being locked down on every continent so they never fall into the hands of terrorists.  (Ap
plause.)

      Because of a diplomatic effort to insist that Iran meet its obligations, the Iranian government now faces tougher sanctions, tighter sanctions than ever before.  And on the Korean Peninsula, we stand with our ally South Korea, and insist that North Korea keeps its commitment to abandon nuclear weapons.  (Applause.)

To borrow an Obamism, let’s be clear. These 8 paragraphs are phoning it in. In a nutshell: American moral leadership is restored (False. Guantanamo and Bagram, drone attacks in Pakistan, and other issues remain. This is likely the President’s weakest point in the entire speech.). We are winding down in Iraq, successfully (half-true. He claimed “violence is down” but in the past week there have been multiple horrific sectarian bombings against Shi’a pilgrims headed to Karbala). 
Then, the big one – we are fighting in Afghanistan (meh. Yes we are, but why? No discussion of the broader issue, just spin). We are making progress in Afghanistan (yes, some. But arguably for every step forward, one or two steps back. Again, just happy talk). The afghan people are better off (in some ways, and worse in others. Spin.). We are bringing the troops home starting July (pure spin). 
Then, something utterly banal about Pakistan, and not wavering (no comment. sigh). START (True. But why credit to the Republicans? They were completely opposed. Take sole ownership of this, man! sigh.). Iran and North Korea – more banalities. No mention of the tough issues in either. 
Not a single mention of either Israel or Palestine. Not one. Same as last year. 
Though, he did mention something about Tunisia. But nothing about the broader issue of the disconnect between these muslim democratic movements and the futility of their struggle against the entrenched autocracies. No mention of Hizbollah’s recent consolidation of power in Lebanon, where the Cedar Revolution seems to have been burned out. And of course the Egyptian demonstrations started the same day as the SOTU, so Obama couldn’t have worked that in, but it does at least pose a rhetorical problem – The United States may “stand with the people of Tunisia” but as far as Egypt goes, the US stands with Hosni Mubarak. 
And note that it was the same thing last year. Here’s an excerpt from 2010:

 That’s why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; why we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; why we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea.  For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.  (Applause.)  Always.  (Applause.)

Abroad, America’s greatest source of strength has always been our ideals. 

I have to agree with the President about that – but our policies speak louder than our ideals, and nowhere is the disconnect between them more true than in Afghanistan and in Guantanamo. The President could have used either SOTU to make the more forceful case for closure of Gitmo in particular, which I still believe he wants to do but which is prevented by political realities. The SOTU is the single biggest bully pulpit of them all, and if there was a time for him to make the case and change the debate, this was it. Instead – nothing. 
Finally, the President did mention muslims twice. Once, in the context of fighting Al Qaeda:
Of course, as we speak, al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us.  Thanks to our intelligence and law enforcement professionals, we’re disrupting plots and securing our cities and skies.  And as extremists try to inspire acts of violence within our borders, we are responding with the strength of our communities, with respect for the rule of law, and with the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family.

Yes, he’s drawing a distinction here – hinting at how American muslims are part of the fight against Al Qaeda. But that’s apparently our only utility as far as American social fabric goes, as far as the SOTU goes. Which brings us to the second mention of muslims:

 Our troops come from every corner of this country — they’re black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American.  They are Christian and Hindu, Jewish and Muslim. 

So, to sum up – American muslims entire identity is in the context of war. I’m proud of being so useful, but at the same time the vast opportunity lost here to highlight muslims as ordinary neighbors and citizens, or to emphasise our contributions to society, is lost. 

Note that last year’s SOTU only mentioned muslims once:

That’s the leadership that we are providing — engagement that advances the common security and prosperity of all people. We’re working through the G20 to sustain a lasting global recovery.  We’re working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science and e
ducation and innovation.  

But frankly this is a far better context – science and education – than the themes this year. 
I’ll save the domestic politics and economic analysis of the SOTU for over at Dean2016.com, so stay tuned…
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