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Omid Memarian

Omid Memarian

Posted March 31, 2009 | 02:50 PM (EST)

G-20, Obama, And His New Brand Foreign Policy


When President Obama steps down from Air Force One to join the G-20 summit, he might not have much to say about the chaotic situation of economy, but he will be able to show how his administration dramatically differs from his predecessor in foreign policy.

Unlike the challenges facing Obama's economic plan, his foreign policy strategy is moving forward fast, much faster than one could expect.

It was hard to imagine that in less than two months, the new president assigned three super envoys to the Middle East, Iran and Pakistan, started suggesting regional cooperation to Ayatollahs in Tehran, showed interests in visiting Bashar Asad of Syria and is changing his tone towards Russia and also is indicating a desire to form coalitions in order to solve regional problems.

Obama seems to have to this realization that the world does not see the United States in the same way the United States sees itself. It is no surprise that, from the streets of Jakarta to downtown Paris and Istanbul, the United States looks like a declining super power. It aggressively uses military force, assumes an arrogant tone in international rhetoric and fails to overcome its problems domestically. It is a super power that acts irresponsibly in response to major global issues, from the fight fo the environment to the fight against terrorism.
This is in addition to a decline in the United States' moral standards, which dramatically collapsed during the tragedies in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, two state-orchestrated cases of torture and abuse. In fact, it doesn't seem there are any realistic reasons to believe the quote from Obama's inauguration speech that "we are ready to lead again".

To overcome the challenges facing the United States' moral and legitimate authority, President Obama had to differentiate himself boldly from his predecessor. He called for shutting down the Guantanamo prison and banning torture. His first interview with Al-Arabia also was designed for the same reason. He rejects the "We vs. Them"/"West vs. Islam" philosophy and implementation of Samuel Huntington's theory of Clash of Civilizations in U.S. foreign policy doctrine and repeatedly invokes mutual respect in his speeches; a forgotten term in U.S. relations to the other countries.

It's true that since 9/11, there have been no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, but plenty of hatred and anger has been generated in Muslim countries and beyond over the past eight years. It is almost unrealistic to say the United States has become more safe and secure; instead, fear and a mild, consistent threat of terrorist attacks have become a part of the American psyche.

Although it seems that the situation in Iraq has become more stabilized over the past year, there remains great potential for more violence again. In Afghanistan the situation does not appear better at all. Here, the main strategy seems to be based on damage control and preventing the Afghanistan fiasco from becoming another Vietnam-like war, with the rising power of the Taliban government and the unwillingness of U.S. allies to keeps their troops there.

Obama's package diplomacy, or effectively incorporating regional power as a specific resolution to end current stalemates, seems to be the best way to go. This requires engaging Iran to cooperate in making Iraq and Afghanistan more secure, asking moderate elements of Taliban to play a more responsible role, bringing Syria to the negotiation table with Israel and committing to support the outcomes regardless of domestic changes in those countries. The Package Diplomacy will also prompt the United States to give up its ambition to support poorly managed democracies in Russia's neighboring countries in the risk of losing Moscow.

At the same time, it will incorporate Iran's nuclear plan as a part of the deal with Kremlin.
Last June at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Obama declared, "As President, I will do whatever I can to help Israel succeed in these negotiations." In order to change the course, the President should show the same level of commitment to do whatever he can to make the other negotiations work. Any act of isolating a country - even a hostile one - and forming high-pressure coalitions to bring it to its knees as a part of U.S. foreign policy has not produced many positive changes and seems to be outside of President Obamas' foreign policy agenda.

President Obama is fully aware of the fact that differentiating himself from George W. Bush will take more than personal charm and pleasing rhetoric, and it should be followed by adopting a series of policies and tough decisions. That's why he must take responsibility for the wrongdoings during the Bush era. He might have to apologize for the damage Washington has made throughout the world and will need to be ready to compromise and show respect to sovereign states.

Acknowledging the misbehaviors of the past increases the Obama administration's capability to be trusted again as a responsible leader. This might include launching independent committees to investigate the way the recent wars were handled, particularly in regards to the mistreatment of prisoners.

Obama's foreign policy path is not easy, but it is necessary to put the United States to a new path, though the results might not come soon or always satisfying.

If President Obama wants to promote his brand new foreign policy doctrine, the G-20 Summit is his best opportunity.