Two years ago, Barack Obama was a mere back-bencher on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose chairman is now our Vice President, Joe Biden. From his 24 month journey as back-bencher to Commander-in-Chief, President Obama has made an incredibly impressive start altering the direction of America's foreign policy -- altogether for the better; perhaps for the best!
With all of the conviction and objectivity I can muster, I resolutely accord President Obama and his foreign policy team a well earned grade of "A" in the conduct of America's national security challenges in the first 100 days of his presidency.
Highest on the kudo list: he has inspired a recalibration of America's tarnished image in the world. From each journey abroad (Europe, Turkey, Mexico and Trinidad), the president has brought back home to the American people a down payment of the lost currency of global respect which had been so patently squandered by the Bush Axis of World Contempt: Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld.
In just a mere three months or so his national security team has proven to be agile, daring, far-sighted, and has so far avoided the back-biting and jealousies that the so-called team of rivals was predicted to produce. No team of rivals here, but a team of national security leaders.
Sec. State Clinton has hit the ground with such panache and seriousness of purpose that she has rightfully earned credit all around from domestic and foreign observers alike. Vice President Biden has, by all accounts, brought sage counsel as the wise man of the Situation Room, ensuring accountability and steadiness to new policy initiatives. National Security Advisor Jones and his strategic communications team have brought exacting discipline to the White House global message and beginnings of an entirely fresh policy agenda. Sec. Defense Bill Gates has helped guide Obama forge a new era of respect and affection from America's uniformed military. Obama even faced down the pirates!
Barack Obama has made it look oh so easy....as if he had been navigating America's national security challenges for 1000 days and not merely 100 days. But don't be fooled. This has required a monumental investment of time and effort by the president and his team to meld the substance and performance into a winning national security start.
Behind the scenes, this president has burned every ounce of midnight oil to avoid pitfalls and make sure he produced the unanticipated and inspired with each venture abroad. Obama now knows, unlike before, where the secret dangers lurk and opportunities present themselves. The American people clearly recognize he has rekindled a renewed sense of confidence in America's global leadership despite our ailing economy and the tragic role Wall Street played in fostering a global recession. National polls reflect renewed optimism in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
Just think back to Inauguration Day. Obama inherited an unmitigated global mess of galactic proportions. Two wars. World opinion of America at its absolute nadir. A massive rudderless international financial crisis. Tyrants aplenty spoiling for a fight. Indifference, if not open hostility from our allies.
True, in his first trans-Atlantic encounter he did not convince NATO allies to inject more force structure into Afghanistan. True, he did not get the G-20 European members to significantly increase their own stimulus packages to expedite an end to the global recession. But in the scheme of things these did not amount to anything more than just getting a little less than hoped for.
During his maiden voyages abroad, Obama unveiled groundbreaking proposals, including a commitment to reduce the threat of nuclear war as a cornerstone of his foreign policy; resetting America's policy with Russia, reengaging with the Muslim world, challenging Iran's leadership to unconditional dialogue; reasserting an unyielding pledge to a Palestinian state living side by side with a safe and secure Israel notwithstanding the new Israeli government's hesitation to utter these words, and jettisoning a shopworn policy toward Cuba.
Inspirational rhetoric notwithstanding, Obama has proven to be extraordinarily pragmatic. He has dispatched respected diplomatic envoys to the Middle East and South Asia to produce tangible improvements in America's global security and to lay the groundwork for far-reaching diplomatic proposals, notably in the Middle East and South Asia, where Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan collectively pose a potential trilateral train wreck for America's future security. He has adjusted his Iraq policy to ensure no precipitous danger to America's departing forces.
The next 100 days will surely force President Obama to transform inspirational policy ideas into serious policy decisions. The greatest headaches will surely emanate from Iran and Pakistan, where no amount of that ole Obama magic will adequately substitute for innovative, hard-headed strategic tough calls that may require every ounce of America's smart power and military power.
Seizing the world stage, Barack Obama has emerged as the metaphorical shining city on the hill. Friend and foe alike recognize America is turning full circle. The nation stands poised to reassert and earn the mantle of admired global leadership under his baton. But successful foreign policy is traditionally measured not in a few short months, but in the rear-view mirror of history. Whether an Obama-led global engagement produces a new doctrine or new disasters...time will tell. But so far given his inheritance, Obama has certainly so far made the best of a very bad hand indeed and the American people and the world are grateful so far for achievement.
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