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Obama's foreign-policy credo: listen and lead

In this century, American presidents will have to listen more than they’re used to.

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When President Obama left for his first major trip abroad, he arguably left behind the "American century" and flew into – what? The "give-and-take century"? The "sharing-power century"?

Whatever it's going to be called, it is an era that will require more listening and more compromise than US presidents are used to.

Mr. Obama seems to recognize this. "The president and America are going to listen in London as well as lead," said his press secretary, talking about this Thursday's G20 meeting on the global recession. It's a high-stakes gathering at which leaders of the world's major economies will have plenty to say.

Listening and leading should be Obama's foreign-policy watchwords not just for this summit, but for the rest of his presidency.

The US is still the world's biggest economy and still its mightiest military player. And it still represents the land of opportunity – as Obama himself testifies. But it lost some of its credibility as trustworthy world-cop in the Iraq war. And its economic role-model status has been tarnished by the global recession. Countries don't fall in line behind Washington as they did, say, during the cold war.

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