For lack of a better word, you could say that Obama’s foreign policy differs from George W. Bush’s by being “nicer.”
After all, there hasn’t been any real substantive change (yet) on any of the major foreign policy issues (Iran, Israel, North Korea, China, etc.).
But Obama — at least in his rhetoric — believed that by opening up lines of dialogue, and being less combative, he could produce results where Bush could not.
Less than a year into his administration, some are calling this notion a flop.
Der Spiegel: Upon taking office, Obama said that he wanted to listen to the world, promising respect instead of arrogance. But Obama’s currency isn’t as strong as he had believed. Everyone wants respect, but hardly anyone is willing to pay for it. Interests, not emotions, dominate the world of realpolitik. The Asia trip revealed the limits of Washington’s new foreign policy: Although Obama did not lose face in China and Japan, he did appear to have lost some of his initial stature.
In Tokyo, the new centre-left government even pulled out of its participation in a mission which saw the Japanese navy refueling US warships in the Indian Ocean as part of the Afghanistan campaign. In Beijing, Obama failed to achieve any important concessions whatsoever. There will be no binding commitments from China to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A revaluation of the Chinese currency, which is kept artificially weak, has been postponed. Sanctions against Iran? Not a chance. Nuclear disarmament? Not an issue for the Chinese.
The White House did not even stand up for itself when it came to the question of human rights in China. The president, who had said only a few days earlier that freedom of expression is a universal right, was coerced into attending a joint press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao, at which questions were forbidden. Former US President George W. Bush had always managed to avoid such press conferences.
So the question, then, is how soon does Obama change courses and adopt tougher, Bush-like rhetoric?
Maybe really soon, if Obama’s aides have their way:
There are many indications that the man in charge at the White House will take a tougher stance in the future. Obama’s advisors fear a comparison with former Democratic President Jimmy Carter, even more than with Bush. Prominent Republicans have already tried to liken Obama to the humanitarian from Georgia, who lost in his bid to win a second term, because voters felt that he was too soft. “Carter tried weakness and the world got tougher and tougher because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators, when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead,” Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker in the House of Representatives, recently said. And then he added: “This does look a lot like Jimmy Carter.”
It’s not obvious that Bush-style politics actually worked any better, but at least he got re-elected, which soon will become the top priority of the Obama White House.
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