Past presidents of the United States have used the solemn stage of the State of the Union address to set new directions in foreign policy. It was there 16 years ago, for example, that George W. Bush first used the phrase ‘‘the axis of evil’’, which launched America into war in the Middle East.
Few observers were expecting anything so dramatic from Donald Trump’s speech on Wednesday and it turned out they were right. His speech left the impression that America’s interest in the rest of the world is confined to a few dwindling areas and Australia’s neighbourhood is not one of them.
This is not a new observation. Mr Trump, who rarely travels, has never shown much interest in foreign policy. But his speech confirms what even Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe this week described as ‘‘reduced support from the United States for the liberal order that has supported the international system’’.
Mr Trump started the speech by invoking the US D-Day landing that saved civilisation from tyranny. But he showed little interest in the institutions built up after the war, such as trade agreements or arms control treaties or alliances. He did not try to define what values he sees as crucial for civilisation today.