In just 100 days, US President Barack Obama has reshaped US foreign policy. He’s turned the focus of the anti-terror war away from Iraq and toward Afghanistan, lifted decades-old restrictions on Cuban-Americans’ visiting and sending money to their homeland, moved to reverse a slide in relations with Russia and reached out to tell Muslims worldwide that the US is not their enemy. He’s declared repeatedly he knows the US isn’t immune to mistakes.
The scope, sweep and breadth of the new president’s engagement abroad — two major trips, significant policy directives — are dizzying, and all the more so given he took office in the midst of the country’s worst economic and financial crises in decades.
Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger said Obama has initiated a “vast diplomatic agenda.”
Kissinger wrote in a recent opinion column in the Washington Post: “The possibility of comprehensive solutions is unprecedented.”
That doesn’t guarantee success.
Failure could lurk in the unforeseeable future. One hundred days are just a snapshot as the horses leave the starting gate. The finish line is distant.
All in all, “it’s a risky gamble,” said Chris Dolan, a political scientist at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania. “It’s a coordinated, selective strategy of trying to improve the US image, to show humility, banking in return on more cooperation from the rest of the world.”
While the world is paying rapt attention, there’s been an initial ho-hum response at home.
Does it signal a US public that was ahead of its most recent leaders, believing, as Obama does, that their country’s image abroad has been badly tarnished, especially during former US president George W. Bush’s eight years? Does the muted response perhaps reflect that Obama has taken on so many foreign policy tasks at once that potential critics are flummoxed about how to respond? Or are Americans simply so deeply absorbed with their frightening economic prospects that they aren’t paying attention?
Whatever the answer, Obama’s absorption with foreign policy “puts him in the mold of a grand strategist,” said Andrea Hatcher, professor of political science at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.
“The scope of what he has done far exceeds what was expected,” Hatcher said.
Unable to predict an outcome, students of what Obama is trying to accomplish are racing to keep current the catalog of what he already has set in motion.
In his first three months, he has set a 2011 end date for US involvement in the unpopular Iraq War, while increasing troop levels in Afghanistan for the fight against al-Qaeda and a resurgent Taliban. He named veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke to serve as special envoy to the region.
He appointed former senator George Mitchell, famous for negotiating a peace deal in Northern Ireland, as envoy to the Middle East, signaling a determination to refocus on an accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians. Most recently he invited Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders to the White House for separate talks on a peace plan. Jordanian King Abdullah II has already paid a visit.
For the first time, Obama put a US negotiator at the table along with European nations working to convince Iran that it should back away from its perceived drive to build a nuclear weapon.