World reactions to Obama's 2011 State of the Union address

President Obama mentioned Afghanistan more than any other nation during his 2011 State of the Union address. But what he didn't mention conveyed a lot.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Barack Obama smiles on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 25, while delivering his State of the Union address. The world listened carefully to President Obama Tuesday night, noticing how many times he mentioned Afghanistan more than any other nation. And to some listeners, by not mentioning other nations – Israel, the Palestinian Territories, or Egypt – Obama may have said a lot.

The world listened carefully to President Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address. The president mentioned “Afghanistan” or “Afghan” eight times. He referenced Iraq, China, and South Korea four times each. India got three mentions and North Korea one.

Perhaps most notable, however, was what nations Obama did not mention.

He did not mention Israel or the Palestinian Territories, where US peace efforts appear at an impasse. Nor did he mention Egypt, where massive riots took hold this week. And to some listeners, by not mentioning those nations, Obama may have said a mouthful.

“Obama's State of the Union: Tough on Iran, but not a word about Israel,” headlined the news article for Tel Aviv-based newspaper Haaretz.

The article continued: “[T]he stalled Middle East peace effort – which Obama launched in September but quickly foundered on deep Israeli and Palestinian divisions – got no mention, although White House officials said the omission did not reflect any flagging of US commitment to the peace effort.”

In a separate op-ed for Haaretz, Akiva Eldar wrote that failing to mention Israel would “be seen as an evasion, a way of avoiding dealing with an American and international interest.”

Although Europe had two mentions, no specific European nation was addressed by name aside from Russia (two shout-outs, plus a hat tip with reference to the Soviets beating the US into space with the launch of Sputnik).

But that did not stop the Guardian newspaper in Britain from rolling out heavy coverage, with British and American journalists commenting on the speech.

“Given his predecessor's abilities, the oratory was impressive,” said Gary Young, a New York-based columnist for the Guardian. He added, however, that Obama “failed to lay out a plan or even a vision as to how America might play this new game” of globalization.

Simon Tisdall, an assistant editor of the Guardian and foreign affairs columnist, said Obama hit a home run. “Last night Obama looked like a winner again. It was his Apollo 13 moment.”

Fellow Guardian commentator Dan Kennedy, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston, had the opposite reaction. “Obama's second state of the union address was short on inspiration, and was something of a letdown following his moving speech at the Tucson memorial service earlier this month.”

Also for the Guardian, Washington-based journalist Olivia Hampton asserted that “the Middle East was notably absent from Obama's cursory mention of foreign policy challenges during the speech before both houses of Congress.”

However, Obama did mention US troop withdrawal from Iraq, tough action to curtail Iran’s suspected drive for nuclear weapons, and the “desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.”

The Taliban were mentioned twice and Al Qaeda was mentioned four times, something that was not lost on the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. The daily ran an article by Agence France-Presse detailing Obama’s controversial increase of drone strikes targeting the terrorist groups hiding in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua highlighted Obama’s focus on creating job growth and investing in infrastructure – although it left out how Obama held up China as a model for investment in transportation and technology.

Indeed, some believe that China's four mentions were the most-ever in a State of the Union speech. But the more-subtle references to the authoritarian nation spoke also volumes, points out Beijing-based correspondent Evan Osnos of The New Yorker.

Obama did not name China when he said, “Our students don’t just memorize equations, but answer questions like ‘What do you think of that idea? What would you change about the world? What do you want to be when you grow up?’ ” Likewise, he didn’t need to single out Beijing when he cited “some countries” in which “if the central government wants a railroad, they build a railroad, no matter how many homes get bulldozed. If they don’t want a bad story in the newspaper, it doesn’t get written.”

How much do you know about the State of the Union speeches? A quiz.

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