Obama’s Diplomacy Gap

Barack Obama claims to understand uniquely how the world’s perceptions of the United States have changed in recent years. For starters, Obama lived in Indonesia from the ages of six to ten, making him the only presidential candidate to have spent any substantial period of time in the Muslim world. Moreover, as he’s eager to tell us, Obama is deeply connected with other cultures, with a grandmother living in Kenya, a half-Indonesian sister, and a Chinese-Canadian brother-in-law. In this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, James Traub explores how Obama’s biography has influenced his vision for American foreign policy:

[Obama] returns again and again to the question of what America means to the rest of the world…. Obama would like to restore the era when people in capitals all over the world could go to the local American cultural center to read books and magazines, the way he could in Jakarta—though now he would add English lessons and vocational training, and “stories of America’s Muslims and the strength they add to our country.”

Obama is correct that the United States should more aggressively reach out to Muslim publics. However, restoring America’s reputation will require more than emphasizing those values that Americans share with the Muslim world—which the presence of a strong, domestic Muslim-American community certainly symbolizes. Indeed, the true challenge of public diplomacy lies in frankly addressing those issues on which the United States and the Muslim world differ, including the war in Iraq, the fight against Islamist terrorist groups, support for Israel, and the drive to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear capabilities.

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Obama’s Diplomacy Gap

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