Obama's Foreign Policy -
No Sharp Break From Bush
By Jim Lobe
Inter Press Service
While much of the world and many of his U.S. supporters are expecting a
sharp break with his predecessor's foreign policy after President-elect Barack
Obama takes office Jan. 20, they may be surprised by the degree of continuity
between the two administrations.
That continuity which would be made more concrete if, as expected,
Pentagon chief Robert Gates is asked to remain at his post has less to do
with Obama's hesitation in following through on his more sweeping campaign
promises than with the fact that President George W. Bush, has quietly if
grudgingly moved key U.S. policies in directions that are largely compatible
with Obama's own intentions.
Obama will no doubt announce a series of steps during or just after his
inauguration to reaffirm to his supporters and, in the words of his victory
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, [that] our stories are singular, but our
destiny is shared, a new dawn of American leadership is at hand."
Those steps will be designed to contrast his commitment to
multilateralism and diplomatic engagement with Bush's fabled unilateralism and
reliance on military power. They will probably include an immediate and
comprehensive ban on the use of torture and a promise to close the Guantanamo
detention facility at an early date.
In addition, Obama will likely move quickly to improve ties with two
governments toward which Bush proved unremittingly hostile: Cuba, where he is
expected to repeal Bush-imposed restrictions on the freedom of Cuban Americans
to visit their homeland and send money to their relatives as a down payment
toward further normalization; and Syria, where he will dispatch an ambassador
to signal his interest both in renewing anti-terror cooperation and encouraging
the resumption of Turkish-mediated peace talks between Damascus and Israel, if
not a broader peace process.
At the global level, Obama is expected to pledge full U.S.
participation in any successor regime to the Kyoto Protocol, including binding
reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, he may well announce his
intent to gain Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)
and several other long-pending treaties opposed by Bush, including the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. He will also restore funding to
another Bush target, the UN Population Fund.
He may even indicate a willingness to negotiate a "Bretton Woods II,"
as proposed by key U.S. allies in Europe, that would strengthen global
financial watchdogs and allocate significantly more power to emerging markets
in the Third World in international economic agencies long controlled by the
In addition to earning Obama great goodwill overseas, all of these
steps will help dramatize the contrast between his more open and inclusive
approach to the world and that of his predecessor, whose unilateralism and
cowboy image have brought Washington's standing among foreign publics to an
To be fair, however, that image so richly earned during his first
term when neoconservatives and other hawks ruled the roost is somewhat
outdated. Chastened by the Iraq war and guided step by halting step by the
foreign policy realists, notably Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Gates,
and his top military commanders, who have come to dominate the last two years
of his presidency, Bush has essentially if not explicitly laid the
groundwork for Obama's "new dawn," especially with respect to key crisis areas
that are certain to figure near the top of the new president's agenda.
Despite loud protests and repeated efforts by hawks around Vice
President Dick Cheney to deep-six the process, for example, Bush has stuck by
Rice and her top Asia aide, Christopher Hill, in making the necessary
concessions to keep the "Six-Party Talks" to de-nuclearize North Korea alive.
Similarly, Bush broke his own diplomatic embargo on Iran along with
Pyongyang, the last surviving member of the "Axis of Evil" by sending a
senior State Department official, Undersecretary of State William Burns, to sit
down with his Iranian counterpart as part of a larger meeting including other
permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany last summer.
Significantly, Burns will serve as the State Department's chief liaison with
Obama's transition team.
The administration also appears close to announcing that it intends to
set up an interests section in Tehran even before Obama takes office. Such a
step will no doubt make it far less controversial for the new president to open
comprehensive, high-level talks with Iran without conditions when he chooses to
do so (possibly after Iran's presidential elections in June so as to avoid
boosting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chances of reelection).
And after effectively ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for
nearly seven years, Bush finally re-launched peace talks at Annapolis last
November. While those talks have made little progress and now, with Israeli
elections scheduled for February, have no hope of reaching an accord by the
time Bush leaves office, he will bequeath, as Rice, the effort's most dogged
booster, noted this weekend, a process that Obama can use to fulfill his
promise to make a two-state solution an urgent priority.
Even on Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush has helped lay the groundwork for
Obama's plans to accelerate the withdrawal of combat troops from the former and
rapidly deploying more to the latter, which the president-elect has long
argued, unlike the incumbent, constitutes the "central front in the war on
terror." By acquiescing in a still-pending accord with the Iraqi government,
Bush has also accepted a 2012 deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops
not just its combat forces, which Obama has pledged to withdraw by mid-2010.
As for Russia, whose intervention in Georgia last August brought
bilateral ties to their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War, Bush, like
Obama, has acted with relative restraint, particularly compared to the urgings
of Obama's Republican rival, Sen. John McCain.
And while his insistence on deploying missile-defense systems in
central and eastern Europe is clearly more provocative than Obama's cautious
ambiguity on the subject, Bush has also moved in recent days both to address
Moscow's concerns and lay the basis for a new accord on sharply reducing U.S.
and Russian nuclear arsenals, something that Obama is expected to make a high
priority in the early days.
In other areas, Obama's engagement strategy is likely to build on more
positive achievements by Bush that have not received nearly as much attention
as his "war-on-terror" debacles: most notably in East Asia, where, to the
aggravation of the hawks, good ties with China have not only been preserved,
but enhanced; India, where the new nuclear deal capped a rapidly growing
strategic relationship; and much of Africa, where Bush's five-year-old, $15
billion AIDS program, strongly endorsed by Obama, is given credit not only for
saving millions of lives, but also for making the region the most Bush-friendly
by far, according to recent public opinion polls.
The Mulindwas Communication Group
"With Yoweri Museveni, Uganda is in anarchy"
Groupe de communication Mulindwas
"avec Yoweri Museveni, l'Ouganda est dans l'anarchie"
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