For the first 100 days of Barack Obama's presidency, coverage of his foreign policy has focused primarily on his dramatic diplomatic gestures and the overwhelmingly positive response he has received from foreign publics and leaders. It feels good to see an American leader being treated as a hero instead of pariah. On a more substantive level, restoring our prestige has real benefits -- cooperation is easier when having a close relationship with the President of the United States is a political boon and not a liability (Just ask Gordon Brown and Tony Blair). But diplomacy is only a means to an end . What is much more significant are some of the early changes the president has made in how he prioritizes U.S. interests and the strategies used to achieve them.
What are we to make of the flurry of Middle East diplomacy that has accompanied the first 50 days of Barack Obama's presidency? The critics will naturally argue it is more of the same or too much too fast. But what the president's team appears to be doing is playing a careful game of diplomatic chess. And as any chess player knows, the opening is about properly positioning your pieces to generate as many opportunities as possible as you head into the middle and end game.
A year ago, with Gen. Petraeus having just testified in Washington and the Iraq War still at the center of the political universe, it would have been hard to imagine national security playing second fiddle in the presidential election. But with the events of the past two weeks, it has become clear that barring a major foreign-policy crisis, the economy will dominate the remainder of the campaign. The subject of this Friday's presidential debate -- national security -- seems distant and removed. A little blip in what is otherwise an economic tsunami.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's support for a timetable for the withdrawal of American combat forces has created a political firestorm in the United States with most of the commentary focused on how his statements reinforce Barack Obama's policies. John McCain and other proponents of a continued large U.S. presence in Iraq have dismissed Maliki's position as unimportant, arguing that it is "only" the result of the domestic political pressures inside Iraq.
If two years ago you were to tell me that the Democratic presidential nominee would make engaging with Iran a central element of his campaign, I would have thought you were joking. After all, talking to a country that has historically enjoyed a favorability rating of a whopping 10 percent in the United States and has a president known for his anti-Western rhetoric probably isn't going to be all that popular. Not to mention the fact that the most substantive interaction Americans have had with Iran over the last 30 years involved watching blindfolded hostages and burning American flags on their television screens.