Ambassador S. Azmat Hassan is a former Ambassador of Pakistan to Malaysia, Syria and Morocco and Deputy Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations. He is currently an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University and is a contributing Worldfocus blogger.
Barack Obama’s election as President was universally welcomed. A masterful orator, his speeches promised an attitudinal sea change from the haughty neo-conservatism of the Bush administration.
He said in Prague last April that he wanted to see nuclear weapons abolished from the face of the globe. He put new energy into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by appointing veteran trouble-shooter George Mitchell to oversee a two-state solution. And he imparted new impetus in calming the troubled waters of Afghanistan and Pakistan by recalling to service another diplomatic heavy weight, Richard Holbrooke.
His professions of friendship and goodwill toward the Muslim peoples around the globe, have created a huge impact from Morocco to Indonesia.
It seemed that this modern day Galahad had almost single-handedly succeeded in changing the negative perceptions of the United States abroad. The international community was electrified at the positive change between the Obama and Bush approaches to the world.
Almost a year later, even Obama’s fervent supporters will have to concede that the gap between intention and achievement seems to be distressingly wide. Both his domestic ratings as well as his international allure have shown a downward trend.
In his defense, it could be argued that Obama was dealt a particularly difficult hand. The collapse of the entire financial system was a frightening possibility in September 2008. Therefore much of his time and effort had to be spent in righting the economic ship of state.
Mercifully, a total meltdown, which would have created global chaos, seems to have been averted by Obama and his economic managers. However, markets are still skittish. Unemployment continues to be unacceptably high, while the US is suffering from conditions not experienced since the 1930’s Great Depression. Nonetheless it is possible at least to envisage a recovery around the corner.
Domestic constraints have rightly taken up the lion’s share of Obama’s attention. He is about to spearhead a landmark health care reform, an objective which had eluded Bill Clinton and earlier presidents. His foreign policy priorities therefore continue to remain more of a wish list than as metrics that have been implemented.
I believe that Obama, in his outreach to the global community, had good intentions. He did not want the U.S. to be perceived abroad any longer as a bullying hegemon, but as a thoughtful partner in multilateral endeavors.
I also believe that 2010 will be crucial for Obama to demonstrate that he is not just a good speech maker. He will have to show that he has the perseverance and political will to reestablish U.S. leadership in foreign affairs.
Obama’s expertise was in law and community work. As an intelligent, calm and deliberative man, he excelled in both fields.
Acquiring knowledge and experience in foreign affairs requires time and patience. Navigating Afghanistan, building up Pakistan, nudging India and Pakistan to resolve Kashmir, being the catalyst on Israel-Palestine, normalizing with Iran and North Korea – to name just a few major issues – would require much hard work, patience and luck.
I leave President Obama to ponder over the wisdom of Al Masudi, a 10th century Arab chronicler, who stated:
He who stays at home besides his hearth, and is content with the information which he may acquire concerning his own region, cannot be on the same level as one who divides his lifespan between different lands and spends his days journeying in search of precious and original knowledge.
Al Masudi, who lived over a millennium ago, is encouraging us all to get more educated and more involved with international issues that affect everyone.
How about that for a New Year’s resolution?
– S. Azmat Hassan