President Barack Obama said in his inauguration speech that "America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more." But the question remains; what are the characteristics of this new leadership and how will it take itself out of the ditches inherited from his successor in post George Bush era?
Obama's to-do list in foreign policy is long and complicated; First and foremost President Obama is facing the consequences of two mismanaged wars that have terribly damaged the United States image in the world. The rise of the Taliban and the growing waves of extremism from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia, are indications of missteps in regard to "the war on terror" policies, and are major challenges for the new Obama administration. Iran's defiance of the multiple sanctions by the United Nations Security Council to stop pursuing it's nuclear program and enriching uranium also challenges the United States regional influence and reminds us of failed policies towards Tehran which have endangered the future of non-proliferation regime and has given birth to the dangerous perspective of a nuclear Middle East in the coming years.
Needless to say, the United States' poor reaction to the Middle East peace process, the Russia-Georgia conflict and it's downplaying the role of major international organizations such as the United Nations challenge the United States leadership style, as well as "moral" and "legitimate authority".
Last months, during the Israeli attack in Gaza, I witnessed from the Diplomatic Lounge to the halls behind the Security Council at the United Nations, the frustration and skepticism of diplomats around the world who were furious at the United States resistance to follow the international community to adopt a truce resolution to stop disproportional war between Hamas militants and the Israeli army.
Last August, during the Georgia-Russia conflict, it was the Vitaly Churkin, Russian Ambassador to the United Nations, who harshly challenged his counterparts' stance in regard to a regional issue who might have never been this lonely at home. As I told one of reporters next to me at the Security Council, "I'd prefer to be a worker laid off of the automobile industry rather than a part Zelmay Khalilzad's delegation in New York." If one were to grade the United States foreign policy as a graduate student paper it wouldn't get more than a D-minus; not very compelling for leading the world.
The failure of Bush Administration's excessive use of force in order to preserve the decentralized system of power shows that change and restoration of the United States role in the international politics can only be made with a major shift, in both tactics and strategies.
That's why Obama's promise" to lead once more" leaves one choice for him; to have a new approach to the international politics, national interest and the application of military power, and a shift from Bush's militaristic idealism and unilateralism to Obama's pragmatism, thus, enhancing the role of the Untied Nations, relying on regional arrangements which contribute to building trust and security as well as distinguishing the causes of issues from the ones that are the byproducts of wrong policies.
In a pragmatic approach, the United States would redefine its long-term interests in the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia. In regard to the Middle East, where the U.S. is struggling with major difficulties, redefining the "balance of power" would lead Washington to use regional forces to constructively participate in the "war on terror" campaign, making Iraq secure, preserve the non-proliferation regime via building regional security pacts, and set aside "regime change" and "velvet revolution" tactics.
In order to do so, the United States needs a variety of changes in rhetoric and actions, as well as readiness for compromise. President Obama's inauguration speech and his recent interview with Al-Arabia News Channel, has expressed overtones of such change. To differentiate from his predecessor, let him support his words with a new set of pragmatic policies that define his approach, style and readiness to "lead once more".