State of the Union: Obama Calls for a "New Level of Engagement" in Foreign Policy

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool) AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

President Obama's State of the Union address focused on jobs, budget trimming, and investment, but he also underscored foreign policy concerns and outlined an approach to international relations with "a new level of engagement."

He essentially called for a post-Cold War approach in which no wall separates East and West and "no one rival superpower is aligned against us." U.S. foreign policy, he said, must lead as a "moral example" of "freedom, justice, and dignity."

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His speech included remarks on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the need to make the U.S. more competitive with the emerging economies of China and India. On foreign policy, the president highlighted his diplomatic success in arms control with Russia and alerted the public to the diplomatic challenges in Iran and North Korea.

The president pointed to the end-of-year deadline for the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq and restated his vow to begin drawing down troops in Afghanistan this summer, with a goal of ending the U.S. mission in 2014.

And in referring to the removal of U.S. forces in Iraq, the president pointed to successes, where 100,000 American troops have served and, he said, violence has come down and a new government is in place.

The State of the Union could not avoid the issue central to American fears and he cautioned that "al Qaeda and their affiliates continue to plan attacks against us," while he praised the intelligence and law enforcement communities in Washington for disrupting attacks. And, while cautioning the American public about the continued threat of al Qaeda, he pointed to the success that U.S. troops have made in denying al Qaeda a save-haven in Afghanistan, although he also alluded to the problems that the Afghan government still needs to resolve.

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On the other side of the Afghan border, the president also noted that al Qaeda is under pressure in Pakistan. He sent a message through the speech that he said has been conveyed in the region: "We will not relent, will will not waiver, we will defeat you."

Finally, the president added a list of other foreign policy successes: a revitalized NATO, missile defense cooperation, reset alliances with Asia and Russia, and the positive results of the referendum in South Sudan -- and he previewed his upcoming trip to improve economic relations with Brazil, Chile and El Salvador, invoking a 1960's program of John F. Kennedy, the Alliance for Progress.

Mr. Obama outlined his view of American values, saying that the U.S. must step up to the plate and give U.S. workers a competitive advantage -- as China and India have done, building infrastructure and supporting education, making his point that trade and investment are the path to a stronger foreign policy and national security.

Additionally, he underscored the point that the U.S. will stand with the people of Tunisia, where, he said, the will of the people prevailed. The president was cheerleader-in-chief for immigration reform and for a trade agreement with South Korea.

In the end, the State of the Union speech was an upbeat attempt to rally Democrats and Republicans around his foreign policy effort to work with other major nations to impose sanctions on rogue regimes, knowing that he faces resistance on any additional spending, and that he faces a Congress, now with Republican leadership, which is proposing to control several aspects of his foreign affairs purse strings.

  • Pamela Falk

    Pamela Falk is CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst and an international lawyer, based at the United Nations.

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