How Do You Say I’m Sorry?

Critics of Barack Obama’s foreign policy likely must be closet Brenda Lee fans, since her big country hit, ” I’m Sorry” serves as the basis for their angst over the way he has dealt with friends and foes in the early days of his presidency. To right-wing pundits and politicians Obama is the great apologist for the Bush Doctrine of unilateralism, preemptive strikes, the Evil Axis and cowboy anti-terrorism.

When Obama acknowledges that the U.S. took the lead in fostering the Great Recession, smiles for a photo op with Hugo Chavez, dares to open dialogue with Iran and assures the Muslim world that the United States is not the enemy of Islam, conservatives go ballistic and lament the decline of American power. To the right-wing the United States must be feared not respected and solving disputes with adversaries through diplomacy and cooperation are signs of weakness certain to threaten national interests and national security.

But what Obama has done is inject a dose of sanity into a foreign policy approach that for eight years has only created more enemies and weakened our standing among our allies. Obama is not, contrary to cable news conservatives, on a foreign policy” I’m Sorry” tour, but rather he is following the tried and true tradition of many presidents of mending fences, tamping down potential brush fires, and offering up olive branches of cooperation. This is not new in American foreign policy; it is just that the Bush team refused to embrace this approach to international relations.

There is a lot about Obama’s governing that is refreshing and reassuring, and his willingness to admit mistakes and his openness to dealing with adversaries should not be condemned but rather applauded. One of the clear benefits of this approach is that Obama has thrown his adversaries off guard. Many staunch opponents like the Iranians, the Chavistas and the Castro brothers don’t quite know how to handle this new approach; they know how to deal with bluster and bombast, but not cordiality and compromise.

There is more than one way to respond to foreign threats, and demonizing leaders, accenting the military option and denigrating nations and peoples have proven to say the least problematic. Obama has rightly chosen to accent our soft power, which means leading by example not by paranoia and seeking common ground rather than pushing nations around.

Obama is no peacenik in the John Lennon mold echoed in his song “Give Peace a Chance.” Obama knows that there are bad guys out there who are threats to this country. But even bad guys can be dealt with without creating international crises and destabilizing the international order. It’s time to give Obama his chance to set a new direction for United States foreign policy.


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