By Ray Fleming

IN his State of the Union address to the US Congress on Tuesday President Obama displayed the powerful and imaginative speech-making style that helped him to win the 2008 election and added to it substance about what needs to be done to restore the United States to its greatness. He was brutally frank about the way in which America is faltering in the face of challenges from confident new nations like China, Brazil and India even though they all still have a long way to go to match the size of the US economy. His clear analysis of the tasks ahead was matched by concrete proposals to tackle them; supporting innovation, investing in education, highways, railroads and encouraging clean-energy industry. The last-mentioning received particularly welcome applause. Underpinning all that President Obama had to say was his concern with the difficulty of restarting significant economic recovery and with it the creation of jobs.

Perhaps inhbited by precedent, President Obama avoided any reference to foreign policy although, as a world power, the State of the American Union cannot be unaffected by global events and its reaction to them. Reference to the turbulent Middle East would surely not have been out of place. Nonetheless, this was an impressive speech by a man who has learnt the hard way in his first two years in office how to put the next two -- and probably tne next six -- to good use.