|The New Face of Foreign Policy|
|Written by Ashish Malhotra|
|Tuesday, March 17, 2009 12:23 AM|
From Paris, to Jakarta, to Sydney, to Kogelo, Kenya – the ancestral village of Barack Obama – citizens of the world took to the streets in joyous celebration in the aftermath of Obama’s historic election to the presidency of the United States. In Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki declared November 5th a national holiday, while Obama’s face was carved into the sand of an Indian beach. The positive response to America’s decision was not limited to the citizens of the world, but also included its leaders, with congratulatory messages pouring in from presidents and prime ministers alike. Despite the enormity of the racial breakthrough that Obama’s victory represented, this was not the cause of the global excitement. Rather, it was the universal belief that President-elect Obama, a man who has family in Kenya and who spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, cares about the world, and will undertake much more of a multilateral foreign policy and leadership approach than that of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Whether it is the non-ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the decision to invade and occupy Iraq without United Nations approval, or the treatment of detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Bush has tarnished the global image of the United States. From the onset of his presidential campaign, Obama has pledged to reverse Bush’s foreign policy catastrophes and to renew America’s leadership in the world to what it was under Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and more recently, John Kennedy: presidents admired worldwide. Obama understands that ending the war in Iraq, pursuing an Arab-Israeli peace agreement, deepening knowledge of other cultures, working multilaterally with other nations and international agencies, and tackling climate change are all part of the leadership role that the U.S. needs to assume in order to make the U.S. and the world a safer place. It is for this reason that he has inspired such optimism around the world.
Obama’s foreign policy will be about multilateralism and diplomacy, unlike Bush’s policies of unilateralism and military force. In Iraq, Obama will not only withdraw troops, but set up regional and international diplomatic initiatives to oversee lasting peace. Obama was much maligned for his response to a presidential debate question about meeting leaders of rogue states without preconditions. While Obama’s stance is much more nuanced than has been reported— highlighting a difference between preparation and preconditions— the criticism received, depicting him as naïve and irresponsible, leads one to wonder what, and how important, ‘preconditions’ really are. If a precondition for discussions with Iran is halting their nuclear enrichment program then there will never be talks between the two countries, because Iran sees such a precondition as undermining its sovereignty. While I acknowledge the widespread view that engaging in dialogue without this precondition somehow legitimizes the Iranian program, I respectfully disagree. Diplomacy is necessary in today’s nuclear world, and the neoconservative notion of preconditions serves to prevent such negotiations. The U.S. can negotiate while maintaining a clear stance, but dialogue is crucial to making any progress. Five former Secretaries of State, including Republicans Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell, have agreed with the ‘inexperienced’ Obama. In his final year in office, even Bush, perhaps enlightened by Obama’s campaign, sent an envoy to Iran this July to engage in diplomatic discussions.
Similarly, the world is hopeful that Obama will renew America’s commitment to the United Nations. While public opinion about the international body speaks of irrelevance and inefficiency, the U.N. can only be what its member states (especially the U.S.) allow it to be. Therefore the U.N. will only become more effective in ensuring world peace and achieving the Millennium Development Goals if and when Obama recommits the U.S. to the institution. Similarly, with only the U.K., Australia and Poland contributing significantly to the ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq, it is clear that Obama must, as he has said he will, repair relations with old allies who have been put off by the past eight years.
Respect for the U.S. has also dwindled because of its hypocritical rhetoric. While much has been made about the brutal oppression of human rights by leaders such as Saddam Hussein and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the U.S. has been guilty of brutally torturing detainees in the prison camps of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Obama will put an end to such operations as well as actively fight poverty, disease, and climate change, all measures that will allow the world to believe that the U.S. does in fact believe in the ideals that it has always proclaimed: freedom and human rights for all.