(photo illustration by Kevin Van Aelst; reprinted with permission from the New York Times; used with Parag Khanna’s article, “Waving Goodbye to Hegemony“)
The Washington Post recently posted an interesting search tool to scan President Barack Obama’s key speeches, policy statements and media interviews.
What fun this can be, I (and we) thought.
We wondered which countries Obama talked about the most. Would China – which is key to just about every one of America’s major international goals – get a lot of air time?
Japan’s Prime Minister Taro Aso was the first official guest of the White House and Japan Hillary Clinton’s first overseas destination. Would Japan score well? How about Israel and Palestine? Is Cuba on the President’s map?
How about failing states – not just Afghanistan and Somalia – but others like Burma and the nation of his father’s birth, Kenya?
We did a quick and simple scan of nations in the Washington Post search tool.
In order to balance the ends of the development spectrum and our own parochial interests, we searched three groups: G20 members, nations from the recent Foreign Policy/Fund for Peace 2010 Failed States Index, and a handful of other nations (with one eventual state in purgatory: Palestine) that are significant challenges for the Obama administration.
The entire list of 45 nations plus Palestine follows at the end of this piece.
From January 1, 2009 until July 12, 2010, Barack Obama mentioned Afghanistan in 70 major speeches and commentaries. Afghanistan leads among all nations in the FP failed state index.
China follows with 58 mentions. Then Iraq from the failed states line-up with 54. India beats Iran with 46 mentions to 43. North Korea scored just 19 even though it has nukes, sank a South Korean ship, and tests more ballistic missiles than virtually any other country.
Pakistan, which also has nukes and ranked No. 10 on the FP Failed States Index, got 17 mentions.
Interestingly, Israel and Palestine had nearly the same number of tags in key speeches and comments – 19 for Israel and 17 for Palestine.
The United Kingdom, which recently pushed through a resolution that it was downgrading the “special relationship” with the US to an important relationship, also found its relative ranking downgraded by appearing in just 12* Obama speeches and media comments.
Cuba, which has frustrated many an American president and against which the United States maintains the only travel embargo that it imposes on its citizens traveling anywhere else in the world, only appears two times in Presidential speeches. This confirms my sense that the Obama administration doesn’t realize that maintaining a Cold War-era fashioned embargo undermines its interests disproportionally, particularly given the relative disinterest of the US national security establishment in Cuba.
Other interesting points. Venezuela scored a single appearance in an Obama speech. Saudi Arabia, which is a vital strategic ally of the US, appeared just 6 times.
The BRICs are really rising though, compared to the rest. Brazil weighs in at 16. Russia 28. India 46. China, as mentioned previously, 58. Collectively, the BRICs are 148.
The G7, in comparison to the four BRICs countries, gets a score of 95.
Somalia and Yemen, which have been occupying an increasing share of the attention of those concerned about “safe havens” for al Qaeda and affiliates, are way down the list with Somalia at 5 and Yemen at 3.
This quick check of Obama statements shows a President and his team mostly focused on rising powers and key problematic powers.
Overall, there is still a systemic dearth of attention to the states that are doing the worst and sliding into failure.
The distraction of Afghanistan and Iraq is palpable – while the perceived need to manage US-China relations appears paramount.
The President doesn’t make a false choice in the Middle East by mentioning Israel much more than Palestine.
And Cuba, which probably represents the lowest hanging fruit for constructive change in the global system with impact far greater than its population would normally warrant, languishes untended. President Obama would score some real points by finally putting an end to the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere.
This tool is a great service. Thanks to the Washington Post for providing it.
Enjoy your own searches.
— Steve Clemons
Number of Major Speeches, Statements, and Media Interviews by President Barack Obama between January 2009 and July 12, 2010 in Which These Nations Appear
G20 Member States
South Korea 25
South Africa 17
United Kingdom 12
Saudi Arabia 6
Other States (and Near States) of Interest
North Korea 19
Top 20 Nations from Foreign Policy Failed States Index
Cote d’Ivoire 1
Central African Republic 0
*Editor’s Update: Regular TWN reader and former House Foreign Affairs Committee senior staff member sent a very constructive note that I had short-changed our British friends. Given that the UK works with aliases — Great Britain, England, Henry’s Place (been re-watching “The Tudors“) — it turns out that the UK in substance appears in 12 Obama commentaries, rather than 8 — though it doesn’t change the UK’s ranking or the basic point I made about the lessening of fervor in the “special relationship”.