Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Charting a new course in U.S. foreign policy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Libby flagged this earlier -- concluding that she "can't think of a better way for Obama to signal that our foreign policy is about to undergo a complete turnaround" -- and I agree that it's a hugely significant development:

The incoming Obama administration has notified all politically-appointed ambassadors that they must vacate their posts as of Jan. 20, the day President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office, a State Department official said.

The clean slate will open up prime opportunities for the president-elect to reward political supporters with posts in London, Paris, Tokyo and the like. The notice to diplomatic posts was issued this week.

Political ambassadors sometimes are permitted to stay on briefly during a new administration, but the sweeping nature of the directive suggests that Obama has little interest in retaining any of Bush's ambassadorial appointees.

Most ambassadors, of course, are foreign service officers, but often the posts involving the most important bilateral relations (such as with Great Britain, Japan and India) or desirable locales (such as the Bahamas) are given to close friends and well-heeled contributors of the president.

But is it really just a move to "reward political supporters"? I suspect there's more to it. Obama wants nothing of Bush's political ambassadors because he wants nothing of Bush's foreign policy generally (Gates at the Pentagon aside). And Libby's right. For all the talk of continuity and the cautious centrism of Obama's top-level appointees, change is coming.

What this bold move shows is that Obama is serious about restoring America's standing in the world, about re-engaging with the international community, and about charting a new course in U.S. foreign policy. And there is no time to waste.

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