In an interview published yesterday, Barack Obama said his presidency is an opportunity to “reboot America’s image” around the world:
Barack Obama says his presidency is an opportunity for the U.S. to renovate its relations with the Muslim world, starting the day of his inauguration and continuing with a speech he plans to deliver in an Islamic capital. [. . .]
“I think we’ve got a unique opportunity to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular,” Obama said Tuesday, promising an “unrelenting” desire to “create a relationship of mutual respect and partnership in countries and with peoples of good will who want their citizens and ours to prosper together.”
The “unique opportunity to reboot” reminds me of Jeffrey Goldberg’s prediction earlier this year — that despite a popular belief that Obama’s inauguration would change the image of America, the world will fairly quickly see him as surprisingly similar to his predecessor:
There is almost this childish belief that on January 20, 2009 we will elect another president and that it will be Obama, or at least a woman, and the world will say “Oh great! Now we can like you again!”
There is this level of childish certainty in that — that I find unfathomable. Because the next American president will have to advance America’s interests around the world. Some of those interests will have to be advanced in hard ways.
I predict that if Barack Obama becomes president, by late 2009 the stories in newspapers in Europe and on TV across the Arab world will be “Oh my God, this Obama is like Bush Lite!”
Why? Because he’s had to take hard steps in Afghanistan. Because he’s had to take hard steps in Pakistan. Because he hasn’t actually pulled out of Iraq, because pulling out of Iraq is not as easy as it sounds when you are debating Hillary Clinton on a stage somewhere. . . .
Because the next president — whoever it is — is going to face the same set of enormous problems, and like any president is going to have limited maneuverability to deal with those problems. And those problems are not going to go away. The Islamic Jihad is not going to say “Well! They elected Barack Obama! I guess we should just have a bake sale or something.”
Who knows — maybe a speech, combined with an unrelenting desire to communicate respect, can do the trick. But Obama might want to reflect on the limited efficacy of prior presidential rhetoric of this genre — starting with the “Islam is Peace” speech delivered at the Islamic Center in Washington, on September 17, 2001, by George W. Bush.