Memo to the Next President: Restoring Diplomacy (Part 2 of 2)
December 24, 2008
Author: Nicholas Burns, Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard Kennedy School
In the second part of this exclusive web video, Nicholas Burns, Harvard Kennedy School Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics and former under secretary of State for Political Affairs (2005 to 2008), outlines steps the Obama administration should take to improve U.S. diplomacy and discusses the diplomatic successes of the outgoing Bush administration.
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Question: What are some of the examples of effect diplomacy of the current administration from which President-elect Obama can learn?
Answer: Well I guess I'd say if I had to look at the successes of the Bush Administration's foreign policy, I'd start with the fact that the Bush Administration was able to build good relations with nearly all of the other great powers of the world. And that is not a normal state of affairs if you look at the history of the world over that last several hundred years. But President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Bob Gates were able to build good, effective working relations with the Chinese government, and of course that relationship has a multitude of problems and divisive issues, but by and large the United States and China have worked fairly well together. Second, the United States and India, of course, have achieved a new strategic partnership. There's been a substantial acceleration in the rate of, in the relations between the two countries and an improvement in those relations. And third, U.S. relations with Brazil have become very positive, as well. So I think in terms of those rising powers in the world – China, India, and Brazil – the administration did well. I also think that the United States is also highly regarded in Africa, for a couple of reasons. First was President Bush's championing of the $30 billion, ten-year HIV/AIDS program, primarily to suffering people in southern Africa and the malaria program. And the fact that we've been able to develop, I think, good working relations with both Nigeria and South Africa, the two dominant countries in the region. I also think after a very difficult first term of President Bush, our relations with the European countries were at a low ebb. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was able to lead the way to rebuild most of those relations in the second term, 2005-2008. So I would rank those as among the positive aspects, the most successful aspects of the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Where President-elect Obama doesn't feel, in my judgement, he doesn't need to recreate the wheel or fundamentally change the policy, but can build on some of the very good work that was done by President Bush and his administration.
Question: One challenge President-elect Obama faces is rebuilding alliances and friendships with countries unhappy with the policies enacted in the last decade. What are some immediate actions the next president can take to start regaining the respect of the world?
Answer: I think that it's important that the United States and the American people understand that while the world is not awash in anti-Americanism – we're very well thought of in Africa, we're very well thought of in India and China and parts of Asia – but there is a problem, a major problem in the Muslim and Arab worlds, specifically in two regions: the Middle East and South Asia. You can make a case that the place where America's vital interests are most at stake are now in the Middle East and South Asia. Because in the Middle East we're dealing with, of course, the war in Iraq; the challenge to American power, and to stability, and to peace by Iran; and, of course, the continuing divisions and disaffections between Israelis and Palestinians. In South Asia, we're dealing with an increasingly bitter and increasingly bitter war in Afghanistan; the enormous problems associated with the Pakistani government, from al Qaeda and the Taliban having safe havens on Pakistani territory to the fact that Pakistan is an inherently unstable and rather weak state, at the present time, but strategically situated. So I think that the next administration of President Barack Obama will need to focus on these two parts of the world to ensure that America's vital interests are being met. Part of that, of course, will be trying to convince people that America is on their side, that our agenda incorporates some of the issues that they care most deeply about. And obviously because of what's happened with Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and the Iraq War and extraordinary renditions, the feelings of many Muslim and Arab people toward the United States are quite bitter and negative. We can turn that around. We have to turn that around. And I think given the unique status of Barack Obama, the kind of campaign he ran, but also the kind of person he is – the fact that he spent time as a young kid in the world's largest Muslim country, Indonesia; the fact that he has family in Kenya; the fact that he campaigned as someone who would rebuild the bridges that America needs to have with the Muslim and Arab worlds – gives him a unique opportunity to put America's best foot forward and to try to reverse some of the very negative trends we've seen develop of the last several years.
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