16 April 2009

In Foreign Affairs, Obama Showing Impressive Balance of Strength and Diplomacy during First Few Months in Office

With his handling of the Somali pirate standoff, President Obama quieted detractors bent on misinterpreting his inclination toward diplomacy as a sign of weakness. Instead, he took care of business with measured maturity and quiet resolve. And then graciously doled out credit where it was rightfully due: the Navy Seal sharpshooters who carried out the mission to free Captain Richard Phillips from ransom seekers aboard the Maersk Alabama.

A few months into his administration, themes are emerging when it comes to relations beyond our borders: a sincere desire to treat others with dignity and respect, even with nations whose leaders we may perceive as enemies or potential enemies (there's something to that old saying about keeping your enemies closer); an appreciation for dialogue (can't accomplish much from the sidelines); and a sincere interest in finding common ground upon which to build. All of which is a stark departure from the smug and renegade cowboy patriotism of his predecessor.

But, as a band of cargo buccaneers learned the hard way, if you mess with us, you will pay.

In Turkey, President Obama offered an outstretched hand of friendship to the followers of Islam. And caught a lot of flack from isolationists back home. How ethnocentric and short-sighted, considering a vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving and deplore the violence of Islamic extremists as much as any Christian does.

There are dangerous fringe elements represented in any religion; certainly that includes Christianity. I doubt mainstream Christians want to be judged by radicals who blow up women's clinics or host Klan rallies while quoting Scripture to support their actions.

So why wouldn't we want to make efforts to improve our standing with the billions of peace-loving Muslims around the globe, one-fifth of the world population? You don't do it by draping yourself in an American flag and the kind of junior high school name-calling that so often came out of the White House from (at least) September 11, 2001 until a few months ago.

There’s even some movement toward easing the embargo with Cuba, which is encouraging. I’m not completely sure what 47 years of sanctions have accomplished, really, other than a foot on the neck of the Cuban people and preventing Cuban-Americans from visiting their relatives. It’s exciting to think that we’re actually taking baby steps toward engagement with one of our closest neighbors.

Whether it's North Korea, Iran, Cuba or Republicans across the aisle in Congress, the smart message Obama is sending is this: if it we can't move forward in a positive direction, it won't be for lack of effort on his part. I think that's a fundamental shift in philosophy that will be embraced across the world (even if not by the minority party in Congress).

Is he expecting Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong-il or Castro (or Mitch McConnell, for that matter) to all of a sudden start popping by the White House on Saturday afternoons to shoot some hoops with him? Of course not. But his hand has been extended and the onus is now on them to reciprocate. Smart.

Obama insists that the United States can't achieve great objectives on its own, even though it is "always harder to forge true partnerships and sturdy alliances than to act alone," as he put it this month in Strasbourg.

Obama is right, we can’t act alone. The world is inter-dependent as never before in history, whether we like it or not.

Policies and practices of the Bush administration and the current hangers-on are blatantly and dangerously out-of-step with the reality of the new millennium. A new millennium that requires a different kind of leader.

One only has to read the first few chapters of his best-seller, "Dreams from my Father," to understand the influences that shape and define Obama as a man of the world, America’s first international president, and to get a sense that he truly is a different kind of leader. At this point in time, when the world is shrinking and when most of the crises facing the US are global ones: financial, environmental, terrorism, disease… having a leader in place with Obama's depth and global perspective reinforces that he is the right (perhaps only) person for the job.

Just as Kennedy came to define the spirit of the 60's and Reagan the 80's... the new millennium is Obama's zeitgeist to claim.

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