BARACK Obama gave a stunningly lame and drearily orthodox State of the Union speech yesterday......The speech had three outstanding features.
The first, like the President's inaugural address, is the absolute thinness of the foreign policy agenda.
How can a speech run for an hour and talk at length about Myanmar, and with some consequence about Egypt and Syria, but not mention China?
This is because the speech very determinedly refused to confront any of the key issues facing America.
In Asia, the one initiative, more or less, is to make a level playing field of Asian markets and to achieve this by the trade pact known as the Trans Pacific Partnership. But the TPP is pie in the sky, excludes many of the key economies and is going nowhere.
But wait, an equally content-free agreement is now going to be struck with Europe.
On national security, the overwhelming commitment was simply to get out of Afghanistan as fast as possible, with another 34,000 US troops to withdraw over the next 12 months.
Obama has experienced success in Afghanistan essentially by defining US objectives ever downwards.
In a remarkably slippery definition, this has been reduced to "defeating the core of al-Qa'ida".
Nothing about building a free Afghanistan, and apparently even the straightforward "defeating al-Qa'ida" is implausible, given the flowering of countless of the terror group's franchises in North Africa and the Persian Gulf. If you define success narrowly enough, I suppose you can achieve it.
Obama confirmed the US has abandoned counter-insurgency and now has a narrow counter-terrorism objective, which means helping friendly governments and killing terrorists with drones. That is actually a pretty sensible combination.
The second notable element of the speech was its failure to offer anything new or substantial on the fiscal crisis. Obama understandably claimed credit for developments he had nothing to do with, such as the production from new gas reserves and the revival of US manufacturing. He also, in a completely amorphous way, wants more done on climate change and boasts US emissions have declined, but this is almost entirely because of the development of the gas industry and other factors over which US government climate-change policy has had no influence.
Obama wildly overstated alleged deficit reductions already negotiated and actually retreated on the previous ambition to reduce deficit and debt. Now he only wants to stabilise them.
And finally, like a good Democrat in the middle of a fiscal crisis he pledged a raft of new programs with absolutely no idea of how to pay for them. Universal preschool education for all kids, raising the minimum wage, new schools, roads and bridges, and not "one dime" extra on the budget deficit. If it sounds implausible, that's because it is.