Bush gone, Obama vows to wield power with 'humility, restraint'
Obama also struck tougher notes when he warned that the United States will not waver in defence of its "way of life" and would defeat those who use "terror."WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama sought to distance himself from the turbulent Bush era as he looked set to hit the ground running Wednesday and act early on a promise to wield American power with "humility and restraint."
Fresh from his buoyant inauguration, Obama will begin to flesh out his vision of better ties with Muslim countries and of new alliance-building to promote peace and security, including by eliminating perceived nuclear threats.
And in one of his first acts as president, he called on prosecutors to halt the cases before the Guantanamo Bay military commissions for 120 days, documents seen by AFP late Tuesday said.
At Obama's request, prosecutors were to seek a halt to the proceedings in two cases, one involving five men charged in the September 11, 2001 attacks and the other in a Canadian arrested in Afghanistan at age 15.
Although his inaugural speech Tuesday largely sounded conciliatory, Obama also struck tougher notes when he warned that the United States will not waver in defence of its "way of life" and would defeat those who use "terror."
The person he intends to carry out his foreign policy is Hillary Clinton who is due to see a US Senate vote Wednesday on her nomination for secretary of state, according to a Democratic leadership source. She is widely expected to be confirmed.
The Obama administration faces daunting challenges to extract US troops from Iraq, forge peace in both the Middle East and Afghanistan, stabilize nuclear-armed US ally Pakistan, and roll back Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
Security in post 9/11 America, he pledged, will not come at the expense of abandoning the US ideals of liberty and the rule of law, which critics worldwide say George W. Bush's administration trampled on in conducting its "war on terror".
In a jab at the unilateral military force that Bush used to invade Iraq in 2003, Obama said previous American generations had defeated fascism and communism with "sturdy alliances and enduring convictions" besides resorting to armed intervention.
These generations knew that US "security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint," Obama said, alluding to the accusations of arrogance cast at the Bush administration.
His administration will be guided by such principles as it meets "those new threats that demand .... even greater cooperation and understanding between nations," Obama declared.
"We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan," he said.
Obama has vowed to mend alliances with Europe, whose additional support he seeks to help bring peace to Afghanistan where the Taliban has re-emerged as a threat following its ouster by US forces in 2001.
"With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat," he added.
He was referring to a "new approach" both he and Clinton have promised toward reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions by engaging diplomatically with the Shiite Muslim country.
In her Senate confirmation hearing last week, Clinton talked of "engaging directly with Syria" in a bid to change its hardline behavior.
On North Korea, there was little sign of a new approach as Clinton said last week that the Obama team would favor the nuclear disarmament negotiations pursued by the Bush administration in its later years with the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia.
In 2002, Bush lumped North Korea in an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran, but he took a more multilateral diplomatic approach to Tehran and Pyongyang after US forces became bogged down in two wars.
"And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you," Obama warned.
But, the first African-American president added, "to the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
In his speech, he did not mention the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which erupted anew on December 27 when Israel launched a three-week military offensive against the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza only to stall in a shaky truce at the weekend.
However, Obama and Clinton have vowed immediately to launch a new push for peace there.