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Analysis: On U.S. Military Missions, Carefully Chosen Words

President Obama opened and closed his State of the Union speech with a tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces, holding out their "team" approach as an example for the rest of U.S. society. "At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down," he said, "they exceed all expectations. They're not consumed with personal ambition. They don't obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand."

The president's words on overseas U.S. engagements, however, were carefully chosen. He noted that he had welcomed troops returning from Iraq with a salute "to the colors under which more than a million of our fellow citizens fought," but he did not salute the cause for which they fought there. Indeed, his only other reference to that war was to say that ending the U.S. engagement in Iraq "has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies," referring to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The war in Afghanistan was profiled in more positive terms. President Obama said the Taliban's "momentum has been broken," and he promised to build "an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, so that it is never again a source of attacks against America."

The secret military operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan received considerable emphasis in the president's address. The operational commander, Adm. William McRaven, was a special guest in the first lady's box, and Obama devoted two paragraphs of his speech to recounting the bin Laden mission.

With respect to Iran, currently the top security concern for the U.S. and its European allies, President Obama said "the power of our diplomacy" has brought the world together over how to deal with that country's nuclear program. "Let there be no doubt," he said:

"America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal." But "a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible and far better," he said.

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Tom Gjelten reports on religion, faith, and belief for NPR News, a beat that encompasses such areas as the changing religious landscape in America, the formation of personal identity, the role of religion in politics, and conflict arising from religious differences. His reporting draws on his many years covering national and international news from posts in Washington and around the world.
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