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Globe Editorial

Obama's mission to the world

November 6, 2008
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BARACK OBAMA'S election has been greeted with good will and great expectations around the world. South Africa's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, former archbishop Desmond Tutu, said, "We have a new spring in our walk and our shoulders are straighter. It is almost as when Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa in 1994." In a letter to Obama, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the French and others around the world "welcome the election of a man committed to dialogue between peoples and communities and cooperation among nations."

Obama will need this good will. But he also will have to know how to make the most of it. Above all, he must have a clear strategic vision, and orient his administration's policies toward the realization of that vision.

A sense of strategic purpose is what President Bush and Vice President Cheney most fatally lacked. Instead of empowering America's allies and weakening its enemies, they did the opposite. The new order they brought to Iraq has been a geopolitical gift to Iran - and a cause of anxiety to Arab governments, Turkey, and Israel.

It falls to Obama to use the tools of dialogue and cooperation lauded by Kouchner to meet the challenge from Iran. Iranian officials have expressed interest in a deal that would involve not only Iran's nuclear program, but also its security concerns and its regional role. It is technically possible to guarantee Iran the right to develop nuclear power while precluding its production of nuclear weapons. To determine whether Iran's leaders are serious about such a bargain, Obama will need to authorize old-fashioned direct diplomacy with them.

Multilateral diplomacy will be needed to reach another strategic goal: extricating the United States from a yawning quagmire in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This means engaging not only those two neighbors, but also India, Iran, Russia, the Central Asian countries, and China. This will be a complex, difficult process. But the alternative is an open-ended NATO military commitment in Afghanistan, and the danger that nuclear-armed Pakistan devolves into a failed state.

Obama will also have to keep a pledge to plunge immediately into the hard work of brokering a two-state peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians as well as a peace accord between Israel and Syria.

To create a congenial atmosphere for these new departures in statecraft, Obama should speak to the world's Muslims. They, and others, need to hear that America has no interest in a clash of civilizations but, on the contrary, stands ready to cooperate with all peoples in coping with common threats to the planet.

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