Great expectations for Obama abroad
Team Obama is more pragmatic and less ideological than its predecessors, say diplomats and campaign advisers. Afghanistan will be a foreign-policy priority.
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Five basic themes have emerged: First, Team Obama is more pragmatic, and less ideological than its predecessors; it's open to negotiation. Second, we can expect an emphasis on example, and a de-emphasis on rhetoric such as "spreading democracy." Third, he brings an end to the neoconservative model of tying notions of freedom directly to American military might, a rebalance of "soft" and "hard' power. Fourth, we should see an emphasis on working with international organizations and groups such as the UN and the World Bank. Fifth, putting America's house in order – economic recovery, energy security, renewed infrastructure at home – is crucial to rebuilding global respect.Skip to next paragraph
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"Look for dropping the preachy rhetoric, which Clinton was just as bad at as Bush," says James Swihart, a career diplomat and former ambassador to Lithuania. "I would like to see the word 'must' and 'historic' dropped from speeches. The big question is whether Obama will drop the phrase 'war on terror.' It's long overdue."
Can we expect dramatic, immediate changes?
Probably not. The Obama honeymoon allows versatility and leverage. But for at least two years under President Bush, changes have been under way and US policies revised. The US did eventually negotiate with North Korea and sent an envoy to Iran, both part of President Bush's "axis of evil." The mutual disdain with Paris and Berlin over "old Europe" has returned to a robust exchange, with caveats on Afghanistan troops. The Bush team set the table for an Iraq drawdown. The era of neocon heavyweights like Doug Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz has given way to greater pragmatism.
In 2009, Obama's approach will likely be cautious, focusing on rebuilding, attempting what Strobe Talbott at the Brookings Institution in Washington calls the "art of the possible" – doing significant symbolic things: Closing the Guantánamo Bay detention center and stopping torture; grass-roots diplomatic "listening"; participating enthusiastically in the global climate change conference next November in Copenhagen, Denmark, and finding apt messages for the Muslim world.
But the few clues offered so far suggest that Job 1 in Year 1 will be Iraq, Afghanistan, and the financial crisis.
What are Obama's key international concerns?
The list is long. Obama told Time magazine that nuclear proliferation keeps him up at night. But in the 21st century that means less concern about mutual destruction of nations, and more about rogue weapons.