Foreign Policy Changes Direction

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 29, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Foreign Policy Changes Direction

Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Obama has dramatically shifted the tone of U.S. foreign policy in his first 100 days in office, apologizing for what he views as past misdeeds and reaching out to longtime adversaries.

So far, there are few concrete achievements, and critics say the president has been too quick to embrace foes such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Others say the U.S. image abroad has improved significantly and established a basis for future progress.

Already it is clear that Mr. Obama's foreign-policy agenda is ambitious and his worldview very different from that of his predecessor.

If the defining phrase of former President George W. Bush was, If you are not with us, you are against us, Mr. Obama has made it clear that, in his eyes, the United States has no permanent enemies, that most conflicts have shades of gray and that other countries, like the U.S., have the right to act in their own interests.

The question now is whether countries such as Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela will reciprocate his overtures and change policies that have hurt the United States and it allies.

President Obama has made an impressive start in changing America's image and the goals and concepts that shape the operational realities of its national security strategy, said Anthony H. Cordesman, a longtime foreign policy and military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

He also took a series of actions that demonstrated that he was far more of a pragmatist and realist than President Bush, far less ideological, and far more committed to proactive diplomacy, Mr. Cordesman said. While any lasting change depends on his successes in the years that follow, a range of polls show that President Obama was able to reverse much of America's lost prestige and popularity in a matter of months.

Mr. Cordesman pointed out, however, that changes in substance are a different issue, and they are not likely to take place at least until a year into Mr. Obama's tenure, when he can present his first true budget to Congress.

Meeting Chavez

Mr. Obama has sparked some controversy among U.S. conservatives by talking publicly about past U.S. mistakes on overseas trips. He has also gone out of his way to appear sensitive to other cultures and traditions.

Freedom and democracy - whose promotion was a cornerstone of Mr. Bush's policies - have not been a priority, and Mr. Obama has hardly mentioned either, except in reference to Cuba. Mr. Obama, who recently lifted restrictions on Cuban Americans traveling to Cuba and sending money there, indicated that the Cuban government would have to do something on the democracy and human rights front before the U.S. would lift the trade embargo in place for more than half a century.

During the recent Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, Mr. Obama acknowledged the broad applicability of freedom and democracy, but also said that other countries have different cultures, different perspectives, and are coming out of different histories.

If we are practicing what we preach, and if we occasionally confess to having strayed from our values and our ideals, that strengthens our hand - that allows us to speak with greater moral force and clarity around these issues, he said.

At that summit, Mr. Obama had friendly exchanges with - and shook hands with - Mr. Chavez, who has had a strained relationship with Washington and called Mr. Bush the devil at the United Nations in 2007.

Some Republicans responded with anger.

It sends a terrible signal to all of Latin America and a terrible signal about how the new administration regards dictators, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Fox News. I don't think there is any downside to talking to him, but I think being friends, taking a picture that clearly looks like they are buddies, hurts in all of Latin America.

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