Obama to the Rescue?

The world is screwed. I can't help but feel that way after listening to Richard Cressey, president of Washington, D.C.-based Good Harbor Consulting and a regular NBC News analyst, talk about the state of the world on Feb. 2 and how things could change un

Feb 4, 2009 at 2:06 pm

The world is screwed.

I can’t help but feel that way after listening to Richard Cressey, president of Washington, D.C.based Good Harbor Consulting and a regular NBC News analyst, talk about the state of the world and how things could change under a new Obama administration.

Cressey was the featured speaker of the Foreign Policy Leadership Council of Greater Cincinnati meeting Feb. 2 at the new South Shore condo development in Bellevue. As I listened to Cressey, I felt a little tinge of depression about how things are going around the globe.

Cressey predicts Obama will move from a reactive position on world affairs to a more centrist philosophy, hoping to win back allies lost in the eight years (but especially the last two or so) of the George W. Bush administration.

“The world turned off the hearing aid when it came to the United States,” he said. “They can’t hear the message when they don’t like the messenger.”

Expect Obama — especially in the ways he’s already reached out, like doing his first television interview with the Arab television network Al-Arabiya — to be more pro-active in handling world affairs.

Like many, I reacted positively to then-candidate Obama’s promises to change bad policies, such as holding so-called enemy combatants in seemingly infinite detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We weren’t allowing these detainees access to our justice system. At the very least, that Bush policy was unpatriotic.

So with Obama’s swearing-in Jan. 20 I expected big things on this front. Cressey cautions that Obama will take a “measured approach” to reversing bad policies of the past eight years.

“Managing expectations is a problem for Obama,” he said.

That’s why the president announced that Guantanamo would close within a year, not right away. Eight years of detention creates some special problems.

We need to try — and hopefully convict — those who have enough evidence against them to prevent their release. But what about the others?

Take detainees like the dozen or so from a Muslim ethnic minority group from western China called Uighurs, profiled recently on an episode of the PBS show Frontline World. They got caught up in a flurry of round-ups in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, even though they had nothing to do with terrorism. Some have been released to Albania because a return to China, which is demanding their return, would mean punishment for practicing their religion.

There are other similar cases, Cressey said.

Another issue confronting the release of detainees is whether years of confinement has been enough to push some over the edge that they’d now actually become terrorists.

I don’t envy the decisions that await President Obama. Drawing the troop levels down in Iraq — a major point of contention between Obama and military leaders — might not happen for years, Cressey said, and we’ll likely have a presence in Iraq indefinitely.

Regional players in the Middle East present a special problem for Obama. Iran, for example, is seen as strong as ever, while the U.S. is seen as weak as ever.

A strong Iran, especially with nuclear capabilities and a heavily de-concentrated weapons program, can create havoc for just about anyone. Making nice with them, while unsavory to many Americans, might be a critically important move in future years.

So is there nothing but doom and gloom?

“Because of who (Obama) is and what he symbolizes, there is a market of people who want him to succeed,” Cressey said. “It’s going to come down to how he responds to that first crisis that no one anticipates, because that’s the leadership issue.”

Obama’s arrival most certainly was a breath of fresh air for most Americans as well as for people the world over, but the level of exhaustion with Bush is not uncommon for any president. Change is a good thing.

So how does Obama ensure that at the end of his one or two terms he won’t fall victim to this same exhaustion?

“He gets it,” Cressey said. “He understands the enormity of what he’s doing. He doesn’t just use his gut to make decisions. I think, thinking optimistically, that the right type of decisions will be made.”

Good. I hate feeling so screwed all the time.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: [email protected]