A new label for US diplomacy in Obama era

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Barack Obama on Jan. 20, 2009, told the American people that the United States was deeply involved in a roaring financial tsunami and two stubborn wars.

The president also said the US was facing severe security threats and challenges, and that his administration would be committed to leading America out of its difficulties.

By introducing "smart power" into foreign policy, the Obama administration expects a restoration of U.S. dominance in the international system.

It also expects a structure of global collective cooperation to address the threats and challenges, and an external impetus to revive the U.S. economy.

All of the above are core goals of the Obama White House's political agenda.

Today, a year later, more and more American people, who were waiting for the "change" promised by the president, have gradually seen that the difficulties remain firmly in their life. Some of them, maybe, have realized that Mr. President is not Moses leading the Exodus after all.

Critics say that the administration's diplomacy in its first year has brought nothing meaningful for U.S. security. Others, however, argue that by using "smart power," the administration improved America's image and is restoring leadership in the international system.

Relations with major powers, particularly the European Union, Russia and China, are always top priorities in U.S. foreign policy.

Though strategic mutual trust with Moscow and Beijing remains insufficient, the Obama administration in its first year has steadily developed relations with Russia and China. That would be one of the few highlights in U.S. diplomacy.

However, those stubborn issues, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear stalemates in Iran and the Korean peninsula, and the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, have almost made no progress.

Analysts say that the United States will lose the war in Afghanistan and that Tehran's tough stance on its nuclear program has sentenced the administration's "engagement" policy to death.

In the first year, the Obama administration has shown more initiative to demonstrate that the U.S. is seeking solutions through multilateral mechanisms for a variety of global challenges and security threats, including the G-20 for financial crisis, COP15 for climate change, the Six-Party talks for the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula and P5+1 for Iran's nuclear stalemate.

"U.S. is back." As an important declaration, the administration has vowed to return to the "sphere of influence" in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, where U.S. leadership deteriorated during the Bush era.

Beside showing goodwill to Iran, Washington has also beefed up its interactions with Cuba, Syria, Sudan and Myanmar. The effect, however, still remains unclear.

Robert Kagan, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Obama is a "super idealist" and his idealism has made his so-called "pragmatic" foreign policy develop nothing meaningful on tough international issues.

Joseph Nye, who introduced "smart power" from an international politics conception into U.S. foreign policy, viewed the administration's performance in its first year as "good start."

He praised Obama for restoring U.S. soft power through a series of "symbolic gesture and speeches."

"These will be the tests on which historians will grade him a decade from now," Nye siad, "But while his current course grade is incomplete, he is off to a much better start than his critics admit."

Whatever the criticism or praise is, for U.S. diplomacy in the Obama administration's first year, a recognized fact is that the United States stands as the only super power, and that in the foreseeable future the only adversary capable of defeating it will be the United States itself.

The "smart power," like other doctrines held by the previous administrations, is just a label for U.S. foreign policy.

All of the doctinres have a common and unshakable goal: to prolong and preserve U.S. dominance in the international system.

As Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, smart power is a "blend of principle and pragmatism."

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