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Embassy Barometer – Embassy 14 – January 2009

Is President Obama taking US foreign policy in the right direction?

Yes (so far) –80%
Too early to say – 20%

Barack on track

An overwhelming majority of London’s diplomats – from every region – have welcomed the foreign policy direction taken by President Barack Obama in the first weeks of his presidency, achieving an approval rating of 80%.

Early decisions – including his executive order to close Guantanamo Bay prison camp and clandestine CIA prisons; his commitment to building a global coalition against climate change; his offering of renewed friendship to the Muslim world; and his use of diplomacy in dealing with countries hostile to the US, such as Iran – have been taken “with boldness and sensitivity” commented a head of mission to Embassy.

The US President’s swift action to rescue the US Economy was warmly received, and hope was expressed that the President would now act to build a global partnership to mitigate against the worst effects of the economic crisis, as one High Commissioner said: “Financial issues are devastating to our own survival and need the type of dialogue which only comes from treating each party to the discussion fairly.”

Europeans gave the President a thumbs up, saying his first steps were “very important from a European perspective,” while one African diplomat expressed the hope that Obama would get tough on corrupt African leaders.

Hillary Clinton is expected to bring vigour and steely determination to her job as Secretary of State, and there was also wide approval for the President’s choice of Senator George Mitchell, the patient and meticulous peace broker in the Northern Ireland peace process, as Middle East envoy.

But diplomats were undecided about the President’s policy in the region: “The likely direction on Middle East issues is not clear,” said one.

Others said the President’s stance on the Middle East, particularly regarding the recent conflict in Gaza, could have been more even-handed, as one EU diplomat commented: “[Obama] seemed to be protecting Israel while attacking Hamas. Such an approach will make a solution impossible. Considering what happened just before he took office he should have known or been advised better and kept a completely neutral position.”

The choice of the combative former UN Ambassador and architect of the Dayton Peace Accord to end the war in Bosnia Herzegovina, Richard Holbrooke, as his special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was also perceived as a good choice, but one diplomat from the region said he hoped for a more comprehensive approach to problems in Afghanistan, that included action on “security, governance and the upcoming elections”.

Overall, diplomats pointed out that it was too early to judge the President on the content of his pronouncements, but rather the tone in which they were said.

In particular, Obama won approval for his multilateralism: “He clearly has an inclusive approach to the development and profile of his foreign policy,” said one diplomat.

Another praised him for his “move away from armed conflict resolution to diplomacy,” and said he looked forward to “effective and fair-minded American leadership.”

Summing up the general mood in the diplomatic corps, one diplomat said: “I think it is very positive that all nations are optimistic about the contribution they feel he can make.”

But envoys were careful to temper their high hopes with realism, as one Ambassador put it: “The process will take time, indeed probably a long time, a couple of years or more, to see the fruits of a real change in a country so vast, with an economy so big, an army so powerful which is used to project peace and stability across the globe, and problems so enormous.”
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“We look forward to effective
and fair-minded American leadership and hope that the world will give non-abrasive conflict resolution a fair chance”

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