Friday, April 10, 2009

Standing on the shoulders of those before him

By Carol Gee

Like all leaders before him, President Barack Obama has been shaped by those who came before him. Their leadership styles, the controversies that caught up with them, the assessments of how they operated, the alliances to which they were loyal, their capacities to have a global view and take global responsibilities seriously -- all these elements made them either good international leaders or not. This post is an overview of the President's first big trip abroad with the above items in mind. I begin with Madeleine Albright, who helped Obama during his campaign.

American leadership abroad -- Albright to Obama: The Audacity to Hope for Usefulness - Washington Whispers ( To quote:

It was a simple message from one author to another. When Madeleine Albright gave President Obama a copy of her book, Memo to the President Elect: How We Can Restore America's Reputation and Leadership , she left him a clever note. "I inscribed it to him, 'With the audacity to hope that this book will be useful,' " Albright said. "Be useful or be read?" kidded Ambassador Karl F. Inderfurth, who moderated a conversation with Albright last night at George Washington University. And while the president may not have Albright's tome on his nightstand, some of the first things Obama accomplished as president were very similar to her recommendations, and the recommendations of other foreign policy pros.

Obama the rationalist -- Reflecting on the President's homecoming, John Harris and Eamon Javers at Politico have written an interesting analysis of the Obama thinking style as it emerged during the trip. To quote:

As Barack Obama returns from Europe on Tuesday, he has in bright, bold strokes revealed his signature on the world stage: He is Obama the rationalist.

A diverse set of Obama decisions in recent days have a common theme: a leader who sees himself building a more orderly, humane world by vanquishing outdated thinking and corrupting ideology.

With a rapid series of major announcements and rhetorical gestures, the new president has done more than turn from Bush-era policies. He has shined a vivid light on his philosophical outlook on the world — and how starkly he differs from his predecessor on basic beliefs about power, diplomacy and even human nature.

"Obama the visionary: end nukes, admit Turkey to the European Union," is how Juan Cole of Informed Comment defines President Obama. Cole said, "Barack Obama continues to shake up the world with his new ideas, demonstrating himself again among the more creative and bold leaders the world has seen in the past half-century." President Obama visited Turkey after attending a celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Matthew M. Johnson of Congressional Quarterly has written a very interesting analysis of the "hazy future of the Atlantic Alliance." Before meeting with NATO and visiting Turkey, President Obama attended the G-20 meeting.

G-20 Meeting in the United Kingdom -- Is the outcome "a new world order, as Gordon Brown termed it?" What its implications for the world's poor? The Washington Note assessed it as "good for the developing world, though the stimulus was not addressed." The Financial Times has a very good in-depth piece that reports on the question, saying that harmony was the main item on the agenda. See also President Obama's interview with the Financial Times, his first with a foreign paper. It was a fine balance for the President to strike.

President Obama comes home to mini religious controversies. There was a bit of talk that some people were miffed because they did not get an invitation to the White House tonight for the first Passover Seder ever to be held there. US News and World Report has all the details about the occasion. The most visible conflict is over his invitation to speak at Notre Dame's commencement exercises. A letter to the editor at US News (4/9/09) calls it an "uproar." President Obama will attend Easter services in Washington , D.C., not necessarily the one he will join permanently, aids say.

President Barack Obama, helped by those before him, has a leadership style that is becoming apparent. Few serious controversies have caught him and the assessments of how he operated have been generally positive. The old alliances are getting to know the new president, with his outstanding capacities to have a global view and take global responsibilities seriously. All these elements could make Barack Obama a good international leaders or not. He will need more good help and some luck along the way

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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