In style, Obama breaks with Bush foreign policy

27th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

What is clear is that the Obama administration is demonstrating a new openness to use multilateral diplomacy to resolve longstanding problems -- while so far keeping much of Bush's foreign policy intact.

Washington -- With more style than substance, President Barack Obama has broken with his predecessor George W. Bush's foreign policy by adopting a humbler tone and reaching out to former foes.

What is clear is that the Obama administration is demonstrating a new openness to use multilateral diplomacy to resolve longstanding problems -- while so far keeping much of Bush's foreign policy intact.

In its first 100 days, the administration has stressed the need to listen to allies and others to solve the global financial crisis and surmount daunting challenges in Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East and North Korea.

It has also vowed to push the "reset button" in its relations with Russia, which hit a two-decade low during the Bush administration.

In a flurry of trips to Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, Obama and his chief diplomat Hillary Clinton have been quick to admit that Washington had made errors and cannot solve problems without help from others.

Such self-criticism has elicited praise from those abroad who recall an "arrogant" Bush dictating terms, but has drawn fire from those at home who accuse them of "running down" America.

In just three months, they have also taken small steps to engage diplomatically with foes like Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela -- countries the Bush administration had long sought to punish and isolate.

And in a signal they are bringing a sharper focus to key trouble spots, Obama and Clinton have appointed special envoys for the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Eurasian energy issues and climate change.

Bush was disinclined to use such envoys.

In his first days in office, Obama ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay prison within a year and banned torture in a dramatic repudiation of Bush's anti-terror policies.

In another break with the Bush era, the Obama administration announced it will seek a seat this year on the UN Human Rights Council in keeping with what it hailed as a "new era of engagement."

Despite the new style, it remains to be seen whether the Obama administration will be able to resolve what many say are the most daunting set of challenges a US president has faced for decades.

Analyst Peter Beinart said the change with the previous administration may be less pronounced because Bush himself later began stressing multilateral diplomacy more than military intervention.

"That takes some of the sting out of the (Obama) shift," the Council on Foreign Relations analyst told AFP.

"But I think they (the Obama administration) have put themselves in a position where they could ... (accomplish) things that in Bush's second term could not have taken place," he added.

For now, the new administration's overtures to Iran, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela have drawn mixed responses.

And the crises inherited from the Bush administration over North Korea's weapons-grade nuclear program and the threat from Islamist extremists in nuclear-armed Pakistan seem to be only getting worse.

The Obama administration may have appointed a special envoy for Pyongyang but so far it has set its sights on returning to the Bush-era negotiating framework involving the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia.

Unlike its predecessor, the Obama administration, through envoy Richard Holbrooke, is working on an integrated approach to Afghanistan and Pakistan and is aiming to defeat Al-Qaeda rather than trying to democratize Afghanistan.

However, it seems to be picking up where Bush left off by increasing troops in the short run, combined with more aid and development for both countries.

On Iraq, the timetable for the US troop withdrawal has largely been established by the Bush administration.

On Palestinian-Israeli peace, the Obama administration is backing the two-state solution first embraced by Bush and is seeking to reinvigorate the Annapolis negotiations launched by Bush.

It also opposes dealing with Hamas unless it ends violence, recognizes Israel and respects past Palestinian-Israeli agreements.

On Russia, initial optimism over a renewed relationship has waned.

The United States now plans NATO war games in Georgia -- dubbed "provocative" by Russia -- that threaten to rekindle tensions over the strategically vital South Caucasian state.


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