Counting the Words of War

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There wasn’t much national-security talk in President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight. There was rote thanks for “our troops and their families” engaged in two wars. Some folks breathed a sigh of relief as he proposed a five-year freeze on “annual domestic spending.” That’s Washington-speak for no cuts in the military’s budget, which upset a bunch of lawmakers on the other side of the issue. That debate is far from over, and Obama’s proposal is just the opening shot in the battle.

But combat was the caboose on Obama’s long train of a speech. “The Iraq War is coming to an end,” he said, generating applause inside the House chamber from war-weary lawmakers. It’s no surprise you had to be paying attention to catch his mentions of the military and national security late in his remarks. In part, that’s because he took office just as the economy was tanking. He has spent a lot of time during his three State of the Union addresses (2009’s wasn’t one, technically) talking up his plans to bring the economy back to life.

Of course, he didn’t launch two wars on his watch. Those actions compelled President Bush to spend a dictionaryful of words each year detailing and justifying his military campaigns to Congress and the nation. The events of September 11, 2001, which sparked the Afghan war and fueled the push for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, demanded large chunks of his annual talks.

State of the Union speeches have been running between 5,000 and 7,000 words lately. The Swampland bean counter tallied the number of words the past decade’s addresses contained dealing with war, terrorism and other national-security matters. No surprise — Bush spent an average of 2,500 words on such topics, four times the 650 Obama has averaged (including 828 tonight, a record for him). Of course, in Bush’s first speech before Congress in February 2001, he spoke a spare 261 words on the subject.