A former United Nations correspondent, Leslie Pitterson writing covers U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. You can follow her on Twitter @lesliepitterson.
During tonight's State of the Union address, President Obama gave a reinvigorated statement in support of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. But if you blinked, you may have missed it.
In the midst of the foreign policy portion of the speech, the president spoke of addressing global poverty and other talking points often heard in the humanitarian community:
We also know that progress in the most impoverished parts of our world enriches us all. In many places, people live on little more than a dollar a day. So the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades: by connecting more people to the global economy and empowering women; by giving our young and brightest minds new opportunities to serve and helping communities to feed, power, and educate themselves; by saving the world's children from preventable deaths; and by realizing the promise of an AIDS-free generation.
The declaration came in a speech light on foreign policy and heavy on several domestic policy issues such as sequestration, tax reform, and gun control. President Obama's emphasis on the role the United States should play in the international community on issues such as global poverty is not in and of itself a new view, but one that has faded from State of the Union addresses within the past decade. Shadowed by the talking points on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting terrorism, and strengthening the global economy, the U.S. role in addressing U.N. initiatives like the Millennium Development Goals has not been a high voltage topic as the president has gone to deliver his address on Capitol Hill in years past.
But tonight, it was back with the president dedicating a part of his limited foreign policy remarks to some of the most notable of the eight U.N. goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, promote gender equality and women's empowerment, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental stability, and developing a global partnership for development.
From the president's remarks, the policy needed to meet these challenges was largely absent. In speaking about climate change, President Obama spoke of the need for bipartisanship but did not mention the need for cooperation on the world stage, not just Washington. This pattern could be seen in his wide reaching mention of the U.S. responsibility to address the global ails that will likely define the quality of living for billions for decades to come. While the State of the Union is meant for the president to present his assessment and vision for the country, it is also a key showcase for him to propose the means to get there.
Without addressing the global partnership framework mentioned in the eighth Millennium Development Goal, it will be impossible for any president of the United States to adequately affect the challenges that will shape the world for generations to come. While the returned emphasis on development was welcomed tonight, the vital conversations are likely to happen in Turtle Bay, rather than on the Hill. To find solutions to most pressing global challenges, President Obama will need to steer U.S. policy away from isolated domestic focus towards global cooperation.