Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Obama Must Move beyond Pseudo-Events

Pundits in Washington and elsewhere have yet to outline US President Barack Obama's Grand Strategy, or to provide an account of an Obama Doctrine of foreign policy akin to the more dramatic changes he has made in American economic policy. All they can point to is a series of "pseudo events," the term that historian Daniel Boorstin coined to depict activity that exists for the purpose of the media publicity and has no immediate effect on real life.

From that perspective, Obama's recent trip to Europe, in which he addressed the G-20 and NATO summits and the Turkish Parliament, as well as his participation in the Summit of the Americas, have been regarded by most of the American media as foreign policy "successes." He has won praise for meeting with top world leaders and for his television appearances aimed at audiences in the Middle East, including the Iranian people.

But in reality, Obama can claim no concrete diplomatic accomplishments. Europe's public and elites have been mesmerized by Obama's personal charisma and multilateralist rhetoric; but NATO remains a relic of the Cold War and its leading members have been reluctant to send more of their troops to help the United States fight in Afghanistan. The "resetting" of Russian-American relationship may have symbolic value but has yet to produce any major policy changes. Residents of the Middle East may have been impressed by Obama's peaceful intentions, but there has been no sign of progress on resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis or in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And notwithstanding all the anticipation for a change in US policy toward Cuba, the US economic embargo that was imposed in 1962 still remains in place.
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