Obama & US Foreign Policy

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dr. Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour

The election of Barack Obama as the 44th US president is undoubtedly a great, amazing and meaningful development in America’s domestic relations. Obama’s personal characteristics as well as family, racial and administrative background, the present division-stricken American society and the very complicated and sophisticated situation of international politics make Obama’s election distinctive compared to other presidential elections in the US.

This election carries a special meaning and concept which is to do with the neoconservatives who tried to engineer a new world based on their own viewpoints and by using Washington’s military power. They not only failed to accomplish their goals but their defeats and fiascos created crises for the US which are almost unprecedented in the contemporary history of America.

The ideas, words and deeds of the neoconservatives faced the US with a new crisis of legitimacy and international acceptability and the neoconservatives failed to manage the software challenge caused in the outlook of the world people towards America. Despite spending billions of dollars on the media, publicity and general diplomacy the global image of the US remained tarnished.  

However, the election of Obama, in view of his personal traits and particularly his immigration roots and his being black and African would automatically resolve many of the software challenges the US is already faced with. In other words, with election of Obama and without sustaining any costs part of the US image before the world people would be repaired and this is just one outcome of his election in terms of foreign policy.

This phenomenon is linked with the other aspect of the US foreign policy and coming to power of Obama which requires a change in foreign policy of Washington. Obama’s pivotal slogan is “change” which also covers the foreign policy. But the question is to what extent can Obama introduce changes? In response to this question it must be said that the US foreign policy is the consequence of various forces which in some cases are very structural and in some others in the process of transformation in response to outside events and currents. However, the idea and thought of the politicians and their share in determining the direction and steering of the US diplomatic machine is significant.

In other words, the US foreign policy is the outcome of action and reaction between structures, emerging political backgrounds, idea processing and behavior of bureaucratic institutions. With such an outlook, Obama would not be able to transform certain structural foundations of the US foreign policy nor does he intend to do so. He is the son of an immigrant who has attained the position of chief executive. He neither intends nor would be able to change the fundamental frameworks of the foreign policy. Excessive emphasis on “change” which has so far been a strong point for Obama in securing more votes could turn into a point of vulnerability for him from now on. Obviously Obama would not be able to meet all the expectations for “change”.

It would be useful to mention two documented points here. One is an article he published more than a year ago (August 2007 issue) in Foreign Affairs magazine on new American leadership amidst his election campaign. The text of that article shows that in his assessment of global threats against the US he holds views no different than other American elites and that he would not change the unanimous appraisals of the US foreign policy. The difference however would be in tactic and methods of execution rather than strategic foundations. The second case is his election victory speech on November 4 in Chicago. He delicately stated that expectations from him are so high that he might not be able to meet them in one single presidential term.

Nevertheless, what was said does not mean that Obama would continue the US foreign policy without change. Despite lack of expertise and experience in foreign policy, Obama has brought together one of the strongest foreign policy experts. The choice of Joseph Biden, the foreign policy veteran at the Congress as vice president as well as persons such as Suzan Rice, Anthony Lake, and Madeleine Albright and benefiting from experienced Democratic foreign policy experts like Zbigniew Brzezinski and perhaps more important than all his desire to listen to his advisors, clearly shows that compared to Bush, Obama’s foreign policy would be different, emergent and more professional.

In Obama’s foreign policy directive there is a long list of topics, problems and crises but it seems that in steering the foreign policy he would adopt a multilateral and software diplomacy, would be more coordinated with European allies, and would be more coherent.

Will Obama succeed in optimizing and reforming the US foreign policy? The answer to that question is not very clear yet. Whatever the answer however Obama’s coming to power is a transformation in the US foreign policy and a challenge to other international players who want Washington to adopt a new foreign policy course with great hope.


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