Posted by Joshua on Thursday, November 6th, 2008
Obama Aims to Engage Foreign Allies, Adversaries
By JAY SOLOMON – WSJ, NOVEMBER 6, 2008
WASHINGTON — President-elect Barack Obama’s foreign policy will focus on wooing longstanding U.S. adversaries while rebuilding alliances in Europe strained during the nearly eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency.Mr. Obama and his advisers are studying ways to engage Iran and Syria, countries that are viewed as central to American hopes for stabilizing Afghanistan and Iraq and forging a broader Middle East peace.
The Obama camp also is developing plans to heal tensions between the U.S. and the broader Muslim world. Aides said Mr. Obama may make a major speech in an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.
During the campaign, Mr. Obama pledged to make a sharp break from the Bush administration’s interventionist and often unilateral approach to the world-an approach that was honed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The president-elect alluded to that pledge in his acceptance speech Tuesday night. “To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world…a new dawn of American leadership is at hand,” he said.
Mr. Obama also has vowed to move beyond the Bush administration’s hostility toward the United Nations and other international bodies that stand to check U.S. power, such as the International Criminal Court.
He is likely to face myriad obstacles in his quest to reorient American foreign policy at a time of shifting global power centers, say U.S. diplomats and strategists. As a candidate, Mr. Obama applauded recent drives by the U.S. and its allies to use engagement and economic aid to end the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. Those efforts have largely foundered, and the new president could face major proliferation crises in those nations during his first year, say Bush administration officials.
Obama advisers said in interviews during the campaign that engaging U.S. adversaries is important in part because the tactic shifts the onus for any failure onto the other side. “There’s no guarantee that diplomacy will succeed…but it strengthens your hands with other people” if it fails, said James Steinberg, a former Clinton administration official who has been touted as a possible national-security adviser under Mr. Obama.
Vice President-elect Joe Biden warned during the campaign that foreign powers or terrorists could challenge the new president during his first months in office, a statement that defeated Republican Sen. John McCain tried to exploit. Among the fears are that Tehran could seek to provoke a standoff with the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf or that North Korea could test-fire missiles.
Stalled diplomacy could pressure Mr. Obama to pursue some of the same hard-line tactics as his predecessors. On the campaign trail, the senator regularly said he would leave “all options on the table” in confronting the nuclear ambitions of Iran. And Mr. Obama said he maintained the right to use unilateral military strikes to hunt down al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan.
“Many people think that the Bush administration is leaving and it’s back to the good old days…but its problems were also a symptom of changes in the world,” Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the New York-based nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations, said before Tuesday’s vote. “Some things will change, but many won’t.”
The Obama administration could have a bigger impact in Syria, which is pursuing indirect peace talks with Israel. Wednesday, Syria’s information minister, Mohsen Bilal, said he hoped Mr. Obama would “change U.S. policy from one of wars and embargoes to one of diplomacy and dialogue.”
Mr. Bush had greater success building ties with Asian powers. Trade with China has surged during his two terms, and he sealed a nuclear deal with India. Some Asian countries are watching Mr. Obama with concern because he has expressed skepticism about free-trade agreements.
Write to Jay Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org