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Obama's foreign policy will
win the world's respect



Jonathan Power
TFF Associate since 1991

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March 1, 2008

LONDON - Richard Haas, the former high State department official in Republican governments observes in his recent book, “The Opportunity”, that the time has never been better for an organization of great powers to bring peace and stability to the world. For the first time in several hundred years the major nations are not engaged in a struggle for dominance. “It is difficult to exaggerate the significance of this development”, he writes.

This could also have been written at the end of the tenure of President G.W. Bush and the onset of the presidency of Bill Clinton. But Clinton lacked initiative and let the ball drop. George W. Bush, who had even less experience, picked the ball up but kicked it all over the field. Now fortune perhaps smiles for second time. A Barack Obama presidency could do what should have been done seventeen years ago at the end of Cold War and secure a grand peace on major issues between the major - and not so major - powers.

America has its problems of self-identity. Richard Hofstater summed it up: “It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies but to be one.” As Rabbit Angstrom, the main character in many John Updike novels, said, “Without the Cold War, what’s the point of being American?” America, committed to its principals of liberty, democracy, individualism and private property, has the weakness of seeming to need an “evil empire” out there to feel fulfilled.

George Bush felt this viscerally and 9/11 gave him his cause - Islamic militancy, which, by sleight of hand, he also turned into a war on Iraq.

Fortunately there has always been a good 40% of Americans who don’t think like Rabbit and never have. Now, I would guess, another 20%, having experienced the depredations of Clinton and Bush, are ready for a different read of what Gunnar Myrdal called the “American Creed”. Instead of being motivated to be involved in the outside world by security threats it is time to be involved because of moral challenge. This is certainly not the time to be isolationist and everything indicates that if Obama becomes president he will not want to be, although clearly a first item of business will be to withdraw from Iraq and reconfigure the Western involvement in Afghanistan (although he has yet to be as thorough in his thinking on Afghanistan as he has been on Iraq).

But this will be, as the French say, the time “to withdraw so as to better advance”. The contours of an Obama foreign presidency already are becoming clear, partly through his own statements and partly through those of his foreign policy advisors, some of whom I’ve talked to.

There will be an end to the rhetoric of “the global war on terrorism”. There will be a shift from dealing with Al Qaeda by military might to one that depends more on intelligence and police work (as with the latest Spanish arrests of a terrorist cell). There will be an almighty push to secure a two state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian dispute even though it will mean profoundly upsetting the Israel lobby in Washington (though probably not most rank and file American Jews). There will be an end to unnecessary confrontation with Iran and, although there will be no let up in the effort to make Iran come clean on its bomb making activities, there will be a preparedness, as is finally being done with North Korea, to reach out and offer American cooperation on ending Iran’s diplomatic and economic isolation.

There will be more of an effort to persuade the European Union to stop Turkey feeling like an outcast and having no choice but to become more Islamic. As for Europe itself, Washington will no longer play at divide and rule, but will work to unite Europe even more tightly. On one side this will mean no longer encouraging London to distance itself from Brussels and the Euro currency and on the other joining with Brussels to speed up Ukraine’s economic and political development to enable Ukraine to become an important member. It will also not look askance at those who quietly are working to improve relations between the West and Russia so that within a generation Russia could join the EU too.

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Nuclear disarmament between the U.S. and Russia which has gathered dust during the Clinton/Bush years will be renewed, partly as a way of decreasing growing tension between the West and Russia, partly to eradicate the chance of an accidental launch, partly to demonstrate to the world that if a country is no longer an enemy then there is no reason to point rockets at it and, not least, to honour past promises made in the signing on the Non-Proliferation Treaty to show consistency with the pursuit of persuading other countries not to develop nuclear arms.

With China, links will grow and paranoia about its growing military strength will subside.

The push for human rights observance will be more consistent. No one will be allowed off the hook because they are a “useful” ally. The turn around in African economic fortunes will continue be supported, as it has usefully been by Bush. In Kenya, his father’s land, Obama will personally bang the leaders’ heads together.

An agenda like this will certainly compel the world to re-think its present scornful attitude towards America. It may not decide to love America but it will make it respect it.


Copyright © 2008 Jonathan Power


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Jonathan Power can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172
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Jonathan Power 2007 Book
Conundrums of Humanity
The Quest for Global Justice

“Conundrums of Humanity” poses eleven questions for our future progress, ranging from “Can we diminish War?” to “How far and fast can we push forward the frontiers of Human Rights?” to “Will China dominate the century?”
The answers to these questions, the author believes, growing out of his long experience as a foreign correspondent and columnist for the International Herald Tribune, are largely positive ones, despite the hurdles yet to be overcome. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, London, 2007.

William Pfaff, September 17, 2007
Jonathan Power's book "Conundrums" - A Review
"His is a powerful and comprehensive statement of ways to make the world better.
Is that worth the Nobel Prize?
I say, why not?"


Jonathan Power's 2001 book

Like Water on Stone
The Story of Amnesty International

Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the 40th Anniversary of Amnesty International



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