WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama has traveled to nine countries and
held face-to-face meetings with 44 foreign leaders since taking office 100 days
It's a milestone that has no official meaning beyond offering an opportunity to review what new presidents have -- and haven't -- accomplished in their first three months in the White House. Despite unprecedented domestic concerns, such as the economic crisis, Obama has spent a significant chunk of his young presidency focused on foreign policy.
Throughout his first 100 days, many observers say, Obama's tone toward the rest of the world has been one of humility and engagement, such as when he told the Muslim world that America is not its enemy, and that the United States "is not at war with Islam."
Daniel Hamilton, director of the U.S. Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, believes Obama's pragmatic message has been well received abroad.
"His message has been [that] the United States doesn't always do everything right, there's some reason for some of the critique," Hamilton says. "But on the other hand, you can't blame the United States for all the world's problems, or even a region's problems, and let's have a new basis for a relationship."
Critics, however, have taken Obama to task, especially on his recent European tour, for what they describe as his apologizing for U.S. behavior over the past eight years. Former Vice President Dick Cheney went so far as to say he believes Obama's policies and actions have made the country less safe.
"He is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack," Cheney told CNN.
Obama's decisions to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center within a year and to ban the use of torture techniques in interrogations, for example, certainly represent a clean break with the policies of the previous Bush adminstration. But Obama still needs to convince skeptics abroad that the United States is a legitimate international actor that other governments might want to follow.
A closer look at Obama's three-month-old foreign policy record reveals some of the steps he's taken toward building these new relationships.
On Russia, Obama has signaled his intention to wipe the slate clean and rebuild frayed connections. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a mock button to illustrate Washington's stated desire to "reset" relations with Moscow. The first meetings have already been held on nuclear arms control, an issue that Obama has made a focus since his Senate days.
Washington and Moscow are still at odds over U.S. plans to establish a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, though. Obama has pledged to pursue the shield but told Russia that if Moscow helps remove the threat of a nuclear Iran, there won't be any need for such defense.
Hamilton says while there is room for cooperation on issues like Iran and counterterrorism, the U.S. president will have to strike a balance between moving ahead with those goals while resisting attempts by Moscow to reestablish a sphere of influence in its post-Soviet neighborhood.
Obama plans a visit to Moscow before the end of the year.
On Afghanistan, Obama ordered a comprehensive review of U.S. and allied efforts in the region and concluded that more countries need to offer military and development assistance.
Since then, he has sent 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, prompting references to Afghanistan being "Obama's War." He has also pressed European leaders to shoulder more of the responsibility for stabilizing the region, and has made a compelling case for why Afghanistan's fate is tied to the fates of other countries.
Europe has been cool to his request for more troops, but Hamilton believes there is a new awareness that they must do more to help.
"It probably won't be everything that the administration wanted, but I think there's a new tone there, and a recognition that the fate of Afghanistan affects Europe as much as it does the United States," Hamilton says.
Obama also made a dramatic adjustment to the U.S. strategy on Afghanistan by bringing Pakistan into the equation, and appointing a high-ranking U.S. diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, as U.S. envoy to the two countries.
Obama and his military advisers argue that without help from Pakistan, the problem of terrorist safe havens in Afghan border lands cannot be solved.
But the U.S. leader's approach relies heavily on the acquiescence of the Pakistani government, which is far from a sure thing. Recently, Pakistani leaders allowed Taliban fighters to take over the Swat Valley as part of a peace deal. The militants have implemented a harsh form of Islamic law there and now control a district less than 100 kilometers from Islamabad.
Clinton recently called the situation in Pakistan "a mortal danger" to the world. But Hamilton says Pakistan's security services remain focused on India as the main source of potential threats and don't seem to feel the same urgency that the Obama administration feels.
... Payvand News - 04/30/09 ... --