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21st Century Diplomacy

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  • 21st Century Diplomacy

    I am impressed at Obama's interview with Al-Arabiya television, and apparently so are they and their viewers. Aside from being impressed that his first televised interview in office was with a Middle-Eastern satellite television network, I'm impressed at - for lack of a better word - the changes we're witnessing in American leadership and diplomacy. There are some in the political science discipline who believe that traditional, closed-doors diplomacy is ill suited for the modern world and the information age. I think they are right. Now more than ever, much is lost in translation when it is dictated through the press or third parties. Political leaders should be reaching out directly to the people, through media and electronic communications. There should no longer be easy excuses for misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

    An excerpt that I thought was especially profound is below. These few minutes, viewed and read by millions of people, may have had more of a positive impact on the security and future of America than anything George Bush accomplished in the previous six years. The country may finally have an actual world leader in the executive office - Obama did this quietly, without fanfare, and without any obvious coaching or preparation. It's refreshing to see. Others may think that he's the fool for doing this, that it somehow diminishes or dilutes the image of America that the previous administration had built up. To them I would say that it's time to try something different. I think the outcome will prove that they had it wrong.

    Q Absolutely. Let me take a broader look at the whole region. You are planning to address the Muslim world in your first 100 days from a Muslim capital. And everybody is speculating about the capital. (Laughter.) If you have anything further, that would be great.

    How concerned are you -- because, let me tell you, honestly, when I see certain things about America -- in some parts, I don't want to exaggerate -- there is a demonization of America.

    THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

    Q It's become like a new religion, and like a new religion it has new converts -- like a new religion has its own high priests.


    Q It's only a religious text.


    Q And in the last -- since 9/11 and because of Iraq, that alienation is wider between the Americans and -- and in generations past, the United States was held high. It was the only Western power with no colonial legacy.


    Q How concerned are you and -- because people sense that you have a different political discourse. And I think, judging by (inaudible) and Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden and all these, you know -- a chorus --

    THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I noticed this. They seem nervous.

    Q They seem very nervous, exactly. Now, tell me why they should be more nervous?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they've been using against me before I even took office --

    Q I know, I know.

    THE PRESIDENT: -- what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There's no actions that they've taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.

    In my inauguration speech, I spoke about: You will be judged on what you've built, not what you've destroyed. And what they've been doing is destroying things. And over time, I think the Muslim world has recognized that that path is leading no place, except more death and destruction.

    Now, my job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world, that the language we use has to be a language of respect. I have Muslim members of my family. I have lived in Muslim countries.

    Q The largest one.

    THE PRESIDENT: The largest one, Indonesia. And so what I want to communicate is the fact that in all my travels throughout the Muslim world, what I've come to understand is that regardless of your faith -- and America is a country of Muslims, Jews, Christians, non-believers -- regardless of your faith, people all have certain common hopes and common dreams.

    And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.

    But ultimately, people are going to judge me not by my words but by my actions and my administration's actions. And I think that what you will see over the next several years is that I'm not going to agree with everything that some Muslim leader may say, or what's on a television station in the Arab world -- but I think that what you'll see is somebody who is listening, who is respectful, and who is trying to promote the interests not just of the United States, but also ordinary people who right now are suffering from poverty and a lack of opportunity. I want to make sure that I'm speaking to them, as well.
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