Obama steps onto the world stage

This week at the United Nations, Barack Obama delivered his vision of America wishes to be under his administration. His administration has brought a marked shift in foreign policy rhetoric, with a greater emphasis on partnerships, multilateralism and diplomacy as its guiding forces. Obama sent a message that Kennedy, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Bush senior could have easily delivered—strength with a strong dose of realism and pragmatism. America will no longer stand alone and the problems facing the world are so acute that all nations will have to meet their responsibilities. And yet, the same nostalgic neoconservatives who brought America into two inconclusive wars feel justified in chastising Obama for being too apologetic and appearing weak. Fortunately, their credibility deficit means they have little influence at this stage.

His success at the Security Council yesterday, where he presided over a resolution on nuclear disarmament, illustrated his skill at bringing global powerhouses together. More than ever, Iran, North Korea, Libya, and Venezuela are getting the message that it is not ‘them against America.’ The Obama approach is about to face a more serious test with the news out of Iran this morning that the Ahmadinejad regime has been working on a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have already joined Obama in confronting the Iranian government and we should expect the months ahead to serve as a gauge of the effectiveness of this new diplomatic approach.

In the days to come, attention will shift to the global economy as the G20 meets in Pittsburgh. Consensus will likely be more difficult to achieve since many of the participating nations believe the U.S. was primarily responsible for the financial meltdown of the last year and that it has yet to bring about the corrective measures necessary to regain the confidence of countries like China, France, and Germany, to name just a few. The jury is still out on the Obama administration regarding its new financial regulations. Given the divisive domestic battle over healthcare, a sluggish recovery, a deficit representing 12 per cent of GNP, mounting debt, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they wonder whether Obama will have the political capital necessary to implement much-needed financial safeguards.

Still, since taking office, Obama has attempted to forge new relations and change course on policies that had little support beyond the borders of the United States. Those changes have included forging a new strategic direction to deal with the nuclear threat, rogue nations and global warming. Obama’s foreign policy also recognizes the need to improve relations with Russia and China as a cornerstone to a multilateral approach. So far, U.S. allies have welcomed his new initiatives and his style of diplomacy. They appreciate his audacity to weigh in on longstanding conflicts like the one in the Middle East.

Some attribute the goodwill shown Obama to the contrast between the post-9/11 Bush administration and the new administration. In fairness, the last two years of foreign policy under George W. Bush, with Condoleezza Rice and Bob Gates leading the way, showed a shift was already underway towards a more traditional approach. But now, with Gates joining the team of Hillary Clinton, National Security chief Jim Jones and Vice President Joe Biden, Obama has accelerated the normalization process. Most notably, Obama has also imbued it with a new sense of hope and energy that is slowly but definitely beginning to make a difference.

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