Felecia Muftic " Obama won hearts, minds on overseas trip
April 12, 2009
GOP voices are at it again: They want to make a U-turn to the world they knew when George W Bush ruled. These were the years when the United States squandered sympathy and good will in the wake of Sept. 11; when the world viewed us as a pariah for our errors in judgment, the abandoning of our ideals as we used torture and thumbed our noses at the Geneva Convention (as Guantanamo Bay symbolized), and our attitude toward international cooperation as “our way or the highway.”
It is difficult to conduct foreign policy in our national interest when we are viewed as being intellectually challenged, arrogant, and culturally disrespectful. Success in winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim world is also impossible when our policies are the Al Qaida recruitment poster for disgruntled youth.
Republicans were quick to sneer that Obama failed to get significant immediate combat troop commitment for Afghanistan or any more than a $1 trillion stimulus package. “What good does it do if we gained good will?” their rhetoric goes.
Whoa there, not so quick on the draw. Seismic shifts in policy are as hard to accomplish in Europe as they are here because their leaders, too, have to run for office in the future. Obama’s popularity with their constituents should make it easier for them to be pro-U.S. policies. What we asked of them was also different than what we had asked in the past. Besides, Europeans had already instituted their own versions of stimulus.
The GOP is using the wrong yardstick to measure the success of Obama’s trip. They are still seeing it through the eyes of the Bush approach to Afghanistan as the number of combat troops NATO provides. Obama has changed tactics and goals. Obama was asking NATO to support an emphasis on the use of economic inducement, development and diplomacy over military conquest, in order to turn the thousands of Afghan village and ethnic groups against Al Qaida.
The initial response was encouraging. At least European leaders and their constituents are no longer viewing our policies with scorn, thus making their participation more likely down the road.
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Obtaining cooperation from Russia in helping to eliminate nuclear stockpiles and loose nukes was arguably the most important result of Obama’s trip, especially since the ultimate threat to our safety is the use of those weapons by terrorists and rogue nations.
Then there is the old McCarthy-era tactic employed by some recently of damning your opponents by calling them soft on something ” “soft on communism, soft on terror” ” or claiming willingness to talk with our enemies is “a sign of weakness” because they will take advantage of us, assuming the Obama administration is so stupid or they are inept negotiators.
That talk harkens to the failed neo con policies Vice President Cheney and administration allies, which posited you could demand democracy at gun point, win hearts and minds by bombing or shooting the stuffing out of them, or bully our friends into helping us. Neo cons love to point to the absence of another Sept. 11 attack on U.S. soil as proof they had made us safer. Perhaps we can owe that to improved homeland security as much as to anything else. It certainly is not because we have single handedly won our military objectives of destroying Al Qaida or that Iraq ever had the capacity to be a threat to us.
Obama’s use of finesse instead of muscle is laying the groundwork for the future by shaping attitudes of those whose cooperation is so important in helping improve our national security. Economic embargoes, economic development aid, and the conduct of the constructive psychology of mutual respect became impotent tools because of Bush-era policies. Thanks to Obama’s trip, these lost techniques can finally be called upon.
Secular, democratic, Muslim Turkey is a case in point of the potential. It is teetering on becoming an Islamic state in part because of the influx of Islamic extremist missionaries and in part in response to anti-American sentiment, their perceived hostility of Americans to anything Muslim, and our invasion of Iraq. Turkey has refused to let the United States use air bases for transit in and out of Iraq. Yet Turkey, a NATO member, could have been key to helping us with Iran, Iraq, and the Israel/Palestine conflict if we had played our cards wisely. The potential of working through Turkey to get resolution of many of the Middle East problems could be very significant, and Obama’s reaching out has gotten that ball rolling.
President Obama also addressed the Muslim street in ways and with credibility no American president has ever attempted or could. He announced, “We are not at war with Islam,” yet he did not drop the designation of our enemies as “terrorists.” His Muslim family ties, viewed as a serious liability in the campaign, now have become a tremendous asset. The impact of words and his persona on the minds and hearts of the Muslim world cannot be underestimated.