Friday, January 30, 2009

Obama's Personal Public Diplomacy

Traveling through Salvador Brazil last year, I was met by Afro-Brazilians who believed that their political voice would be strengthened through the election of Obama as president of the United States.  If the US could elect a black president, so could Salvador elect a black mayor.  As I left Brazil and ventured to Ghana, the majority of my fellow students at the University of Ghana wanted Obama elected.  They thought that Ghana would have a seat at the table and be recognized for it flourishing democracy.  Ghanaians foresaw an increase in aid throughout the continent.  The United States projected its changing views to the world through the election of President Obama. 

The ability of Obama to curb the gap between the United States and the rest of the world has been seen throughout his campaign and in his interview with Al-Arabiya.  As a campaign promise, Obama stated that he would visit a predominantly Muslim country in his first 100 days in office.  In an opinion piece by Robert Satloff titled "Obama's Personal 'Public Diplomacy': A Very Preliminary Assessment," Satloff marks the shift between the United States and the Muslim world from a "us v. them" approach to one of "mutuality." The dramatic initial shift in message to acceptance of the Muslim world is one unseen in the United States in the past eight years.  When the United States elected Barack Obama, they elected a man who has Muslim relatives that are from Muslim countries.  This close background positions the president as an ally rather than a threat to the Middle East.  Additionally, his statement regarding diplomacy and openness to talks with Iran passes a message of peace and forgiveness.

While this article pertains mostly to the Muslim world and the United States, the recent calls for Six-Party Talks with North Korea and the focus on development signals a broad change in America's message.  In Secretary Clinton's first address to the Department of State, she states that the "three legs to the stool of American foreign policy:" are "defense, diplomacy, and development."  Since the election, both Clinton and Obama reiterated that the key to defense is found in both development and diplomacy and positioned the US for superpower status.

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