Afghanistan

Barack Obama: Diplomat in Chief

President Obama made his first personal foray into world diplomacy this week and he didn’t even have to leave the White House. On Monday he gave his first formal interview since being sworn in to the Dubai based Al-Arabiya network. While the interview content did not break new policy ground its symbolism and tone (thoughtful and at times humble) spoke volumes.

This move displays Obama’s smarts policy-wise. It’s also a somewhat bold move domestically given right-wing efforts to link the concepts “Muslim" and "Obama" in voters’ brains.  But in one symbolic act, Obama telegraphed his willingness to perhaps begin to reframe the “war on terror” as actually a bit more about communication across cultural divides and a bit less battle on the battlefield. (And this issue of the problems with the concept “war on terror” is addressed directly in the interview.)

Too often the term “public diplomacy” has been bureaucratic jargon for a mix of Voice of America programing and slick global advertising campaigns. That type of public diplomacy is thus a euphemism for propaganda. This was true especially during the Bush administration. What we really do need is a broader conception of “public diplomacy” that improves cooperation across the globe through understanding how all our nation’s words and actions impact international relations. Through shutting down Guantanamo to arranging a dramatic interview with a Muslim audience, Obama is focusing attention on this most important part of public diplomacy. Notably, he has also pledged to make a major speech from a Muslim capitol soon. (Of course the citizens’ election of the multi-racial Barack Hussein Obama is the most important recent act of American public diplomacy.)

So Obama deserves applause for making personal outreach to the rest of the world – and particularly to the Muslim world community – a personal priority in his first days in office. Peace Action West is encouraging Congress and the administration to look at another crucial piece of the public diplomacy puzzle. The global impact of the civilian casualties our current military strategy inevitably causes in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq seriously undercuts outreach to Muslim communities. It may be hard for Americans to understand, but for many people, casualties caused by our military actions are seen in some of the same heartrending light as the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. If the Obama team has made winning “hearts and minds” with Muslims across the globe a top priority, they'll have to work to stop these far too frequent tragic attacks. As I wrote earlier this month, there are other, better ways of shutting down terrorist networks than counterproductive attacks likely to frequently cause “collateral damage” and thus become a recruitment pretext for insurgents.

Categories: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Obama, Pakistan

5 replies »

  1. ‘What I Want for You — and Every Child
    in America’
    By President-elect Barack Obama
    On Tuesday, Barack Obama will be sworn in as our 44th President. On this historic occasion, PARADE asked the President-elect, who is also a devoted family man, to get personal and tell us what he wants for his children. Here, he shares his letter to them.
    Dear Malia and Sasha,
    I know that you’ve both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn’t have let you have. But I also know that it hasn’t always been easy for you and Mom, and that as excited as you both are about that new puppy, it doesn’t make up for all the time we’ve been apart. I know how much I’ve missed these past two years, and today I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.
    When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me—about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.
    I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential—schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college—even if their parents aren’t rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.
    I want us to push the boundaries of discovery so that you’ll live to see new technologies and inventions that improve our lives and make our planet cleaner and safer. And I want us to push our own human boundaries to reach beyond the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other.
    Sometimes we have to send our young men and women into war and other dangerous situations to protect our country—but when we do, I want to make sure that it is only for a very good reason, that we try our best to settle our differences with others peacefully, and that we do everything possible to keep our servicemen and women safe. And I want every child to understand that the blessings these brave Americans fight for are not free—that with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.
    That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.
    She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better—and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It’s a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be.
    I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much—although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.
    These are the things I want for you—to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.
    I am so proud of both of you. I love you more than you can ever know. And I am grateful every day for your patience, poise, grace, and humor as we prepare to start our new life together in the White House.
    Love, Dad
    The full text of letter from an Iranian teacher to American president Obama about his letter to his children
    In the name of God
    Sir president Mr. Obama, hello
    You know well that your dear Malia and Sasha had a lot of fun these two last years on the campaign trail. You know that as excited as they both are about that new puppy.
    You have written them that their smiles always make your heart hot and light up. You have said that you was in wrong to think all life is about you, you have found that your own life wouldn’t count for much unless you was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours.
    You have said: ” that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for child in this nation”.
    Sir President,
    If some day we say lie to ourselves wished or unwished, we will realize this lie sooner than everyone and this matter stimulates our conscience, of course the sound that only we ourselves hear it, and we can’t denial it.
    If we say lie to our relatives, they will understand it sooner than all others and this shout will arise from their inside.
    Sir President,
    Don’t you suppose that if you think more, so you will reach to this result that while you can have all happy and gladness opportunities in your life that you ran for president for American, Iraqian ,Afghanian and Ghaze and worlds children?
    Sir President,
    If you think more, won’t you conclude that the world is full of Malia and Sasha?
    Do tomorrows your Malia and Sasha won’t read children’s adventure from other parts of world and know that day in which your daughters were excited for their new puppy, the children from Ghaze and Iraq , etc were excited for what!? Don’t they ask you, why did you (my father) buy this happiness for us too expensive? Don’t they ask you, what is this exchange by which you have soled afterlife and God’s satisfaction to be able to buy world, its peace and calm?
    Sir President you said that:
    “I want to push our own human boundaries to reach being the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other”. But you did not say how? Is it possible to achieve this important matter, destroying all other religious and nations?
    Sir President you said that:
    “Sometimes we have to send our young men and women into war and other dangerous situations to protect our country”. But whereas it is usual that it is not necessary to violate the far and weak countries for protecting country, unless some one wants to establish our home on their plundered capitals and tomorrow if your Malia and Sashai read the history and inform about what was happened in the world and wealth of American was obtained by which cost, won’t the sweetness of this excitement due to have a puppy turn to bitter? Don’t have the American soldiers Malia and Sasha? Is you were soldier, did you like to separate you from Malia and Sasha and send you to the war?
    Sir President,
    Didn’t Christ (peace be upon him) learn you like his brother Mohammad (May God send greetings to him) that ” what you accept it for yourself, also accept it for others and what you don’t accept for yourself, also don’t accept for others”?
    Sir President you said that:
    “Great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility”, Did you think also how much is responsibility of privilege of slavery for God and being the follower of Christ ?
    Did you think if today the Christ (peace be upon him) wants to manage , How he manage it?
    Sir President I accept one of your speeches that you said to your children:
    “it is only when you hitch your wagon to some your true potential”. Now that you yourself belief this speech, why do you hitch yourself and your children to and American? Hitch yourself to the human and humanity, to the God, don’t you think that this hitch will create a much greater potential in infinite value in you and your children?
    Sir President,
    God willing, think again about your letter to your children , because when a man wants to give a gift , it should be the best one.
    By a teacher from Iran-Yazd
    Yours respectfully
    Alireza Jalali

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