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President Obama has been criticized in conservative circles for going around the world and apologizing for America, and also for reaching out to America's enemies. I have criticized Obama myself for the apologizing, which I consider counterproductive. America does, after all, engage in diplomacy in order to advance America's interests, not to immolate itself on the world stage or score political points back home. Obama's latest apology was to Mexico, where Obama repeated the false statistic, previously cited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others, that 90% of the weapons used by the Mexican drug cartels come from America. The real number of weapons traceable back to the U.S. is 17.6%. The Obama administration should have known better.
Where I think the conservatives are wrong is in criticizing Obama for engaging antagonist foreign powers in the first place. As an opening foreign policy gambit, which is what Obama's world tour is, a first act in a longer foreign policy play, I think it's quite smart of Obama to engage our enemies as well as our friends. Without opening the channels of communication, how is progress even possible ? It isn't. As long as Obama isn't making strategic concessions to our enemies, there is no harm in talking to them, and there is a potential benefit. In that sense, pushing the reset button is a good thing.
So far, there are few tangible foreign policy benefits. Cuba has signaled that it is willing to put discussions of everything on the table, including Cuba's political prisoners and human rights violations. If true, some real good could be accomplished there. In South America, Obama has had to endure a litany recitation of America's alleged sins against our Latin neighbors. The coca-head Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave our President a book as a gift. The book was "Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent" by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. As you can probably tell by the title, it is a highly critical portrait of American and European foreign policy in South America. Obama sat through a 50-minute long anti-American tirade by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, where Ortega spoke of "terroristic U.S. aggression in Central America." While Hillary Clinton dodged questions about Ortega's inflammatory words, Obama eventually said this:
"To move forward, we cannot let ourselves be prisoners of past disagreements. I'm grateful that President Ortega did not blame me for things that happened when I was three months old. Too often, an opportunity to build a fresh partnership of the Americas has been undermined by stale debates. We've all heard these arguments before."
That's only a mild slap at Ortega, but Obama's words were well-chosen. We can't move forward on foreign policy while looking only at the past. Several other Latin American leaders complained about U.S. foreign policy as well.
Obama has made a couple recent moves on foreign policy that I wholeheartedly agree with. The first was in allowing the Navy to take out the Somali pirates if the American captain's life was under imminent threat. There was no other decision to make there, and Obama made the right one, even though it took a couple days longer than it should have for him to make it. America's policy of non-negotation with thugs remains. Secondly, Obama pulled out of the United Nations international council on racism, because of the U.N. inclusion of a draft document that is itself racist. The UN Human Rights Council has long singled our Israel for human rights violations while ignoring the human rights violations of other countries. Much of the UN Human Rights Council is anti-semitic, and Obama was correct in not legitimizing racism in the name of fighting racism. Australia, Canada, Israel, Italy and Sweden are also not attending.
By traveling around the world, our new President is getting the education in foreign affairs that he needs. We have a long way to go, and the tough decisions remain, but overall, for a new President, Obama is off to a pretty good start on foreign relations. The conservatives would be well-served by not engaging in knee-jerk criticism solely for political gain, because that's what it's starting to sound like. With the exception of easing travel restrictions to Cuba, Obama hasn't abandoned any long-held American foreign policies yet, and a change in American-Cuban relations is probably overdue anyway. When you criticize, it's only helpful if there's actually something of which to be critical. If you're critical of open dialogue only because 'thy name is Obama,' well, then that is the conservatives problem, not Obama's.