By Isobel Coleman, Special to CNN
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
- Isobel Coleman: Obama mainly addressed domestic issues: economy, immigration, energy
- He spoke very little about and offered nothing much new on foreign policy, she says
- Coleman: He talked about ending Afghanistan War, spoke briefly about Iran, Syria, China
- Coleman: His reinvigorated free trade agenda seems to be the boldest move
Editor's note: Isobel Coleman is the author of "Paradise Beneath Her Feet" and a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
(CNN) -- President Obama's State of the Union address predictably focused on his domestic priorities.
Immigration reform, a laundry list of economic initiatives including infrastructure improvements (Fix it First), clean energy, some manufacturing innovation, a bit of educational reform and the rhetorical high point of his speech -- gun control.
As in years past, foreign policy made up only about 15% of the speech, but even within that usual limited attention, Tuesday night's address pointed to few new directions.
On Afghanistan -- America's longest war -- Obama expressed just a continued commitment to bringing the troops home, ending "our war" while theirs continues. On Iran, there was a single sentence reiterating the need for a diplomatic solution, which makes me think that a big diplomatic push is not likely. On North Korea, boilerplate promises to isolate the country further after its provocative nuclear test, and on Syria, a call to "keep the pressure" on the regime, which means more watching from the sidelines as the horror unfolds.
Notably, China was mentioned only twice -- once in the context of jobs, and another time with respect to clean energy. Nothing about managing what could very well be this administration's most vexing but critically important bilateral relationship.
Obama's call for a reinvigorated free trade agenda was his boldest foreign policy statement of the evening. He is right to note that free trade "supports millions of good-paying American jobs," but his pledge to pursue a "comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership" -- a free trade agreement with Europe -- will run into significant opposition from organized labor, especially given ongoing weaknesses in the economy.
Without fast track negotiating authority, the prospects for such a deal are minimal. Fast track authority, which allows the president to negotiate trade deals that Congress can then only approve or disapprove but not amend, expired in 2007, and it would require quite a breakthrough for Congress to approve it again. Still, despite these challenges, an agreement is worth pursuing.
Aside from a free trade agreement with Europe, there was little else in this State of the Union that hinted at foreign policy ambition. But unpredictable events have a way of derailing America's best laid plans to stay above the fray of the world's messiest problems. Who could have predicted just a few months ago that Mali would get a mention in the State of the Union? Iraq -- not uttered once tonight -- could re-emerge as a formidable crisis; Iran, Pakistan and North Korea also have tremendous potential to erupt.
While this administration seems determined to focus inward on getting America's economic and fiscal house in order, I doubt events in the rest of the world will be so accommodating.
Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.
Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Isobel Coleman
Part of complete coverage on
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
After Barack Obama's speech and Marco Rubio's rebuttal, we should have heard from Kim Peters, who has been unemployed for more than a year, says John Sutter.
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1420 GMT (2220 HKT)
Anne-Marie Slaughter says the hallmark of the 2013 State of the Union address was progressive pragmatism.
February 14, 2013 -- Updated 1528 GMT (2328 HKT)
David Rothkopf says a newly confident and empowered Obama offered an agenda for change and determination to get to the work of governing.
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1848 GMT (0248 HKT)
CNN invited contributors to weigh in on President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night.
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
Jessica Massa says today's romantic landscape is full of ambiguity and gray areas about where any given connection might lead.
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
LZ Granderson: Marco Rubio was set to showcase the new, women-friendly face of the GOP. Too bad he had just cast a women-unfriendly vote.
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Sen. Marco Rubio's effective response to the State of the Union showed he is someone to be reckoned with.
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
Matt Welch: The State of the Union laid out an agenda too costly for a country that wants to see what it's getting in return for debt.
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Isobel Coleman says Obama's speech ignored huge challenges the U.S. faces in the world, ones which could quickly dominate domestic agenda.
February 13, 2013 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Presidents once delivered State of the Union only in writing; now they reckon with a stream of social media comments, says Bob Greene.
February 12, 2013 -- Updated 2118 GMT (0518 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the interview with the bin Laden "shooter" adds important detail to the story of bin Laden's final minutes.
February 12, 2013 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
David Frum says many people want to believe in living alone, without traditional attachments, but is that kind of life best?
February 12, 2013 -- Updated 1612 GMT (0012 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Pope Benedict XVI, who struggled to reconcile the Catholic Church's relationship with the modern world, embraced the living traditions of the church while attempting to extend its reach.
February 10, 2013 -- Updated 1839 GMT (0239 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says the CBS dress advisory note to Grammy attendees was hilarious -- and sexist.