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State of the Union Address to be Light on Foreign Policy

  • Luis Ramirez

With his popularity ratings starting to improve as a result of an improving economy and lower unemployment, President Barack Obama is preparing to focus on his domestic accomplishments in his upcoming State of the Union address. But analysts say the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Americans’ uneasiness about threats by extremists will be reason for him to speak about his foreign policy as well.

In the days before the annual address, President Obama has been highlighting his domestic successes, flying around the United States and, in a largely unprecedented move, giving previews of the announcements he will make in the areas of jobs, housing, cyber security, and education.

But the terrorist attacks in France are a sobering reminder for the president that the fight against extremists is far from over and remains at the top of his global agenda.

“In the streets of Paris, the world has seen once again what terrorists stand for. They have nothing to offer but hatred and human suffering. And we stand for freedom and hope and the dignity of all human beings. And that is what the city of Paris represents to the world, and that spirit will endure forever, long after the scourge of terrorism is banished from this world," said Obama.

Obama in 2014 launched a bombing campaign and sent in U.S. troops to help combat Islamic State militants. But that fight, he has said, will take years. The legacy he will want to talk about is more likely to be his effort for a deal to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.

Analyst Larry Korb, who served as Obama’s campaign foreign policy adviser, said the president sees more reason to focus on domestic issues than global matters.

“He will talk about those issues, but I think he recognizes that we have got to get strong at home before we can be strong in the world," said Korb.

Relations with Russia have been at a low point since the invasion of Ukraine, but Korb does not expect too much focus on what the administration is finding to be an especially complex relationship. That complexity became apparent Wednesday, when the Russians assisted U.S. astronauts during an emergency aboard the International Space Station.

“Everybody is upset about the Russians in Ukraine. Who saved our astronauts today up in space? The Russians! We need the Russians. They helped us get stuff in and out of Afghanistan. So, yeah, you are not happy with them in Ukraine and so it is not like, 'We, gee, we ought to have a strategy that is anti-Russian.' No, we need the Russians and we have worked with them in a couple of areas," said Korb.

Among the foreign policy successes for Obama to highlight: a landmark climate change deal with China, and the deployment of hundreds of U.S. troops to fight Ebola in West Africa.