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The Economist: Barack Obama's foreign policy: The quiet American

November 26, 2009

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The Economist weighs in on the debate surrounding president Obama's diplomacy. Has he been clever, or weak? Does he have the strategy and the will to use force to fulfill his promises? The coming weeks, according to the Economist, may likely be his litmus test.

AT LAST Barack Obama seems to be starting to make up his mind. After months of agonising, he is apparently close to announcing that he will after all send a decent number of American reinforcements to Afghanistan (see article). Meanwhile, having barely mentioned climate change since his inauguration, he has now told the world that he is going to the international summit in Copenhagen-and with a provisional promise that the world's greatest polluter will cut emissions.

Bold stuff. But both Afghanistan and Copenhagen can also be cited as evidence of a weakness that runs through his foreign policy. It looks to many as if he has dithered, not deliberated. On Afghanistan, far from being clever, his faint-hearted attempt to talk round Congress, manage his squabbling officials and twist the arm of Hamid Karzai, the vote-rigging Afghan president, has arguably accomplished little except hand the initiative to the enemy: his generals have an uphill struggle. On climate change, the rush to Copenhagen, with no bill in sight in Congress, has an air of desperation.

This goes to the heart of the debate about Mr Obama's diplomacy. Which will he be, clever or weak? Does this president have a strategy, backed if necessary by force, to reorder the world? Or is he merely a presidential version of Alden Pyle, Graham Greene's idealistic, clever Quiet American who wants to change the world, but underestimates how bad the world is-and ends up causing harm?

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