Leading article: Mr Obama's international overtures deserve a response

The more open and friendly tone is a welcome change in US diplomacy

Share
Related Topics

In his first act as President, Barack Obama asked for the military tribunals at Guantanamo to be suspended. His request was interpreted, essentially, as a holding operation, preparing the way for the prison camp to be closed down. Above all, though, it was a signal, to America and the world, of how he intends his presidency to be different from his predecessor's.

It may be unfair to contrast the George Bush who emerged after 9/11 with the as yet internationally untested Barack Obama. But the new President was wise to start here. If there is one image that damned Mr Bush, and alienated Muslims around the world, it was the barbed wire and orange jumpsuits of Guantanamo. The legal limbo in which the camp existed – and was designed to exist – was ruled, even by a Supreme Court sympathetic to the Republicans, to violate the US Constitution.

The final closing of Guantanamo could, regrettably, take many months, some say years; the dilemma is what to do with the remaining prisoners. But unlike many foreign policy issues with which Mr Obama will have to grapple, the principle here is simple; it is also something that is entirely within the President's power to do. Almost everything else will be more complicated. But tone counts for a great deal in diplomacy, and the new President has introduced himself as someone who sees the world as peopled by potential friends, rather than potential enemies. When he said: "We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist", he was inviting former adversaries to countenance a new beginning: a more benign sort of security built on mutual self-interest.

It is important not to be starry-eyed about how much such a fresh approach might achieve, and how quickly. But the significance of a change in the atmosphere emanating from Washington should not be under-estimated either. Mr Obama has already indicated that many curbs on relations with Cuba could be lifted. One of the last vestiges of the cold war could thus be eradicated – and the lives of millions of Cubans eased.

An early visit to a Muslim country – an unofficial visit, perhaps, as informal as a presidential trip can be – could do an enormous amount to demonstrate goodwill. It has been speculated that Mr Obama might travel to Indonesia, where he spent some of his childhood years. More risky, but more geopolitically advantageous, might be a stopover in Pakistan. Mr Bush recruited the former Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf as an ally in his "war on terror" – at great political expense to Mr Musharraf. New leaders in both countries could forge a more productive and understanding relationship.

Mr Obama has already set a provisional timetable for handing Iraq back to the Iraqis, as he put it, and made Afghanistan a priority – although many European countries, including Britain, will take some persuading before contributing more troops. But his most urgent challenge is the Middle East in the aftermath of Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza. With his own openness to new ideas, and a team comprising Hillary Clinton and George Mitchell, Mr Obama has a chance here that he must not let slip.

We should not be disappointed in Europe to find ourselves further down Mr Obama's list. We should rather seek to assist the new President address conundrums, such as the Middle East, where only the US can take a lead. Mr Obama, for his part, must savour the few days or weeks he has to set his own agenda. It will be overtaken all too soon by the inevitable unforeseen events.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: When is a baroness not a baroness? Titles still cause confusion

Guy Keleny
 

CPAC 2015: What I learnt from the US — and what the US could learn from Ukip

Nigel Farage
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower