Steering a New Course

President Barack Obama inherited in January a foreign policy almost as universally unpopular as the H1N1 virus. With few notable successes, such as his admirable effort to combat AIDS in Africa, Mr. Bush’s bellicose foreign agenda, rooted in the dangerous delusion of American exceptionalism, had alienated most of the world. What the new administration needed to do immediately was change the tone, extend an open hand and proffer some plain old courtesy to a weary world. Mr. Obama has done this and more, adding substance to style with hints at meaningful, constructive changes in U.S. foreign policy.

In his first 100 days, the president aggressively pursued public diplomacy. Almost at once, he reached out to Iran through an unprecedented video message and with subtler, but more important signals, like referring to the country by its proper name, “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” thus hinting that the United States may abandon its misguided goal of forced regime change in Tehran. Iran, for good or ill, is a democracy, albeit an unhealthy one. If the United States is to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran from causing a regional cataclysm, it must negotiate as one sovereign state to another.

At the G-20 Summit in London in April, President Obama met with Russia’s President Dmitri M. Medvedev and began to mend that tattered relationship as well by indicating the possibility of compromise on such issues as the United States’ unpopular (and unnecessary) missile defense system in eastern Europe. Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Obama realizes that the cold war is over and that if hot wars with countries like Iran are to be avoided, the United States will need a multistate diplomatic effort with the help of other leading nations like Russia.

Closer to home, Mr. Obama’s trip to the Summit of the Americas signaled to a skeptical Latin America that the United States may finally put its gunboats into drydock. The president announced the repeal of overly punitive regulations regarding travel and remissions to Cuba. His choice to greet Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez at the summit with common courtesy was appropriate, though it inevitably drew the fire of the right wing commentariat. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, refusing to fade away gracefully, said that it made the United States look weak. Pat Buchanan charged the president with selling out the interests of the United States. Mr. Obama’s reply? “Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is probably 1/600th of the United States.... It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chávez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.”

Mr. Obama’s gestures are welcome. The president has introduced a note of civil but meaningful engagement that has been missing from U.S. diplomacy. This is a practical necessity. It is plain that the alternative approach of all stick and no carrot, which has characterized much of American foreign policy in recent years, has yielded little more than a world full of enemies. Yet this style of diplomacy also has a moral dimension. As Pope John XXIII wrote in Pacem in Terris: “By establishing contact with one another and by a policy of negotiation, nations will come to a better recognition of the natural ties that bind them together as men. We are hopeful, too, that they will come to a fairer realization of one of the cardinal duties deriving from our common nature: namely, that love, not fear, must dominate the relationships between individuals and between nations.”

It is clear, however, that Mr. Obama will need to match his style with greater substance: real, game-changing moves that will assure the world that the United States has settled on a different, more cooperative form of leadership that has a greater chance of effecting a truly peaceful world. We still await meaningful changes, like lifting the Cuban embargo and allowing the free flow of trade and people between the two countries in the hope of opening up Cuba’s political system. We also look to the president to begin a credible and vigorous attempt to restore the nuclear nonproliferation regime. And we anxiously await Mr. Obama’s responses to a range of pressing and deadly serious challenges abroad, including the collapse of the six-party talks on North Korea, the humanitarian and political crises in Africa and the daily growing mortal threat of all-out war and loose nukes in Pakistan. Mr. Obama’s diplomatic mettle will be especially tested in the Middle East. Israel’s implicit threat to disarm Iran through bombing and the Israeli government’s morally and legally questionable policies toward the Palestinians represent an existential threat to the U.S./Israel relationship and the peace of the region.

For now, however, Mr. Obama is off to a good start, especially for a president who also happens to be dealing with the greatest economic crisis in four generations.

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8 years 4 months ago
I am not sure how the editors can possibly ignore the egregious attack on life and the family that has been perpetrated by the Obama Administration. Nearly every court appointee has been actively "pro-choice." He rescinded the Mexico City policy, effectively promoting and funding contraception and abortion oversees with our tax dollars. He has liberalized federal funding of embryonic stem cell research that has essentiall declared that science should not have meaningful ethical boundaries. Concience protections of health care professionals are about to be removed so that women can have access to "reproductive health" which somehow includes the murder of innocent children in the womb. Furthermore, countless actions and policies supported at the UN have been anti-family, pro-contraception, pro-abortion and pro-homosexuality. Every one of these issues is unacceptable and ought to be the most important evaluation of the caliber of his presidency. While there may be some policies that a Catholic can support, for example, actions against torture and the recent decision to discontinue building the border fence in Texas, as a whole this administrations blatant and deliberate attack on life is inexcusable. I hope America will give a more balanced and accurate portrayal of this presidency going forward. God's Blessings.
John McShane
8 years 4 months ago
A fair analysis of a beginning. Yet there is a tinge of misunderstanding about the "Palestinian Issue". What is the impact IF neither the Palestinians nor Hamas nor Fatah nor Hezboulla want to be handicapped by statehood? ... And they continue to receive casual support from recognized countries? Then where do various foreign policies go?
8 years 4 months ago
Artland (above) is not sure how the editors can ignore Obama'a attacks on life and family. They have not once criticized him on these issues or other issues for that matter. Civilians were killed in Afghanistan--not one word of criticism from America. If Laura Bush wore $540 sneakers, America would have said she was out of touch with how every day people live, yet Michelle gets a free pass. Obama's proposals to do away with conscience protections for medical personnel regarding abortions and not one word of criticism. Who do these editors worship?
Leonard Villa
8 years 4 months ago
This editorial is an amen-corner to a President cozying up to the enemies of this country and appearing naive and weak while weakening national security. This only emboldens our enemies not to mention the terrorist enemy. You have to know your enemy. Negotiation in a posture of weakness often turns deadly because it seeks to ignore reality. The term "torture" is being bandied about as if it were a univocal term whereas a lot of the "torture" is no more severe than military survival training, military boot camp. You should give your definition of torture. It certainly should not be the definition set by the enemies of this country so we can be "liked" by them. Moreover the President compromises the security of this country by releasing the interrogation techniques used against terrorists. You pooh-pooh Cheney but then Cheney was right about the projection of weakness and and his demand to release all of the memo's indicating about how many lives were saved because of info gotten from the "torture." As the prior post indicated you ignore Obama's war against the unborn and the unbridled statism which he is spearheading.
8 years 4 months ago
This is a comment on the comment above by Arland. Where were you during the Bush administration with all its assaults on life - increasing poverty and lack of access to health care, which drove women to abortion out of desperation; not to mention that administration's wars of choice, use of torture, and using the death penalty to win votes by appealing to peoples' worst nature - vengefulness? I find it ironic that all we have heard from many Catholics ever since Obama's election is abortion issues - but they gave Bush a pass, just because he said some platitudes and threw an occasional very small sop to the pro life crowd. I find this either using the issue for political purposes or being wilfully deluded. Either way it is mistaken. As I recall the last issue of the Right to Life newspaper that I saw had a large picture of, of all people, Karl Rove in it - the atheist strategist who concocted that Bush use abortion as a political tool. We do not live under a Catholic government but a democratic government of people of many religions. As Catholics, we can support that which pleases us (moves toward world peace and cooperation) while still pointing out areas of concern (other life issues.)
8 years 4 months ago
While all the things you mentioned are certainly positive, you overlook the negatives that exist in the first 100 days of the administration. The removal of restrictions on embryonic stem cell research are troubling, as are the renewal of funding for family planning at home and abroad that promote abortion. The threat to conscience protections for medical professionals has the entire Catholic Health Care community nervous, not to mention other religious groups. While there have been signs of hope for immigration reform, ICE raids continue and immigrants are still being treated unjustly throughout the nation. And while the economic stimulus packages will certainly help the poor and the environment, there are legitimate threats to subsidiarity as well. I think there should be balance in assessing administrations - not overly laudatory and not excessively critical.
8 years 4 months ago
To ignore Obama's lust for abortion and his failure to support attempts to save live birth infants who survive botched abortion procedures negates anything else he is doing as POTUS. You are a disgrace to the Church and your need for repentance is overwhelming. "Father forgive them, they know not what they do."
8 years 4 months ago
This is a superb article, balanced and specific. It points out the initial progress of the new president and suggests some next steps. Well done, as usual!
8 years 4 months ago
How can the Editors ignore some of Obama's actions EG : 1. he refused to speak at Georgetown U. until the image of Jesus was covered over 2. He told the attendees at the G20 summit that "we are NOT a Christian nation" . Please ,take off your winkers and take a closer look at this President and stop lamenting Bush's mistakes
peter martial
8 years 4 months ago
Arland writes, "While there may be some policies that a Catholic can support, for example, actions against torture and the recent decision to discontinue building the border fence in Texas, as a whole this administrations blatant and deliberate attack on life is inexcusable." "While there may be?" Not sure if you can support anything? McCain voter in November? "As a whole this inexcusable." Apparently, for Arland, the "whole" is ABORTION and social and economic justice, world peace, etc. are not even parts, but, as Osservatore Romano has commented, the official paper of the Vatican Secretariat of State, Obama has been, all things considered, a reasonable and morally principled leader the Church can work with. To say Obama has blatantly and deliberately "attacked life" is way over the top, the type of rhetoric one expects from angry and dangerous extremists, not people of reason, common sense, and charitable civility. Sadly, such rhetoric is all too common from those who voted for the candidate who, fair and square, lost.
robert oneil
8 years 4 months ago
Baloney! Obama is a polarizing personality and his radical left agenda, along with his pro-abortion stance, will do much to compromise the moral integrity of the United States. We (you at AMERICA MAGAZINE)cannot overlook lack of substance and moral direction simply because you enjoy the liberal left. What has happened to the Society of Jesus. Ignatius must be sad.
8 years 4 months ago
Obama bows to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the editors of America bow to Obama. As for Milbo and his household, we will only bow to the King of Kings--Jesus Christ Our Risen Lord. His name angers the editors of America. We all long for the days when Jesuits were on their knees in prayer rather than to worship the Democratic Party.
8 years 4 months ago
I'm sick of the ugliness these (supposedly) pro Life people spread. They are haters and dominators. A woman has the right to her own body. The majority of Americans recognize this fact. It's completely Immoral to Force a woman to carry through with a pregnancy. The rights of the unborn are valid, but they do NOT supersede the rights of the woman who carries the unborn. President Obama is a great man, as this article clearly shows. Yet, the (supposedly) pro lifers would rather have in place someone who is a weak man, a war-monger, and a man of duplicity and ignorance, who sponsors torture, such as George W. Bush is. A man who was a huge disaster, as President.
James Sheehan
8 years 4 months ago
To Bob, I am sure that you will walk with the "liberal left" to increase and enhance the entitlement programs that will be needed once abortion is declared illegal once again. Welcome to the "liberal left" Bob!
8 years 4 months ago
Yes it was a foreign policy editorial.If America Mag had a column on food/resturants, the abortion blog hogs would tie their issue into it..
8 years 4 months ago
I disagree with your assessment of President Obama's honeymoon 100 days as our freedoms are disappearing swiftly as are the jobs and income for all the largesse he has displayed. I also wonder why all you liberals think the whole world dislikes the U.S.A. now. Why are all those people clamoring to come here from south of the border, Cuba, the middle east, India and a lot of the Muslim countries if they dislike our way of life so much? We have free enterprise which Mr. Obama seems to be giving way to more and more government control under this president.
8 years 4 months ago
cgreen stated "As Catholics, we can support that which pleases us ...". The problem is that you must observe Catholic principles and doctrines or stop calling yourselves Catholics. This is a simple choice. In 2004 the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement which reads, in part: "The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions." So as a Catholic, there is no honor to or for Obama nor for the so-called Catholic members of Congress and the Cabinet who support abortion. This is not a question of political parties. It is time to stop looking at those in our government through Rose Colored glasses. It is time for the Catholic Bishops to start excommunicating these people. Catholicism is not a democracy!
Paul Louisell
8 years 4 months ago
I guess time will tell if the new foreign policy helps or hurts U.S. interests in the world.

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