President Obama's foreign policy is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, covering his obvious thoughtfulness, intelligence, and inexperience.
Iranians vibrated to his praise for ancient Persian culture and his sensitivity toward Islam. In saying he wanted to negotiate, he gave away nothing and put the onus on the Mullahs for a response. After initial toing and froing before the G-20, he nailed down the group's consensus on economic stimuli, regulation, and help for poor nations. It was a lowest common denominator deal, but it kept all going in the same direction. At and before the summit of the Americas, he showed he did not fear petty dictators like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the Castros of Cuba.
In sum, he demonstrated the necessary sensitivity toward other countries and cultures and took the necessary first step to clear the air worldwide of Bush-inspired anti-Americanism. This was the right step--and the easy step. Now comes the very hard part--figuring out priorities between restoring the economy and managing international crises, and figuring out how to use his precious powers to solve or manage these situations.
Good strategy demands choices and priorities. Otherwise, American power gets dissipated. We don't know yet whether Mr. Obama is such a strategist or whether he or his team can produce such essential strategy.
Leslie H. Gelb is the author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (2009)
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