A Leader Among Leaders
The world has had its fill of American "toughness." President Obama knows that the United States is facing catastrophic circumstances requiring all the policy-making tools at the country's disposal.
But he also understands that the shift to a more stable and reinvigorated economy and the foundation for a more inclusive and sturdier social safety net will not happen without allies willing to be part of a global solution. His message that "we're all in this together" encouraged the G-20 members to adopt a more robust stimulus (they agreed to do so through IMF funding) and push NATO to counter a common threat from the potential radicalization of Pakistan and Afghanistan (small steps only because of intense public opposition).
Obama intentionally cast himself as a leader among leaders, not the premier among underlings. He also acknowledged that the rift in Euro-American relations has become a dangerous ideological and political chasm over fundamental issues including differences over the centrality of international law and institutions to maintain global stability, the threat of global climate change, and the responsibility of the state to maintain social safety nets and legally binding labor-capital accords.
"Anti-Americanism" on defense policy stems not only from the Iraq War but also from differences over Israel-Palestine and the proposed construction of missile defense in Europe. Whatever the policy differences, this is hardly the time for America to "go it alone." The problems are too monumental and the stakes are too high. Facing staggering deficits and loss of wealth and jobs, America can no longer afford the luxury of toughness. Obama knows that America must telegraph a new message of respect, collaboration and mutuality. Fortunately a hallmark of Obama's leadership is his ability to deliver bad news and make difficult requests in ways that others can hear and respond positively.
Worldwide economic and political change is underway. There is no going back to "business as usual" with America dictating policy and expecting compliance from "lesser" countries. Peace and generalized prosperity will never be attained if America remains isolated, feared and reviled, a trend that has gathered dangerous momentum among foreign elites and publics. Obama's central task was to recast and reconfigure America's relationship with other countries, recognize the hostile political environment and how we got here, and move forward to common solutions.
For his inaugural turn on the world stage, Obama correctly acknowledged the policy errors of the past and embraced consultation, cooperation and commonality of purpose. As he said in Turkey, bridges of trust must first be built if we are to address successfully the daunting problems of the present.
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