Rejoining The World Community
With the glaring exception of Af-Pak policy, which is admittedly fraught with tough choices, I have appreciated the Obama Administration's work in foreign policy to this point. They have moved in a number of additional directions today.
First, they decided to join the UN Human Rights Council, after George Bush pulled the US off of it.
"Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement. "With others, we will engage in the work of improving the U.N. human rights system. . . . We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies."
The United States announced it would participate in elections in May for one of three seats on the 47-member council, joining a slate that includes Belgium and Norway.
Bush's removal from the Council was entirely based on right-wing demonization of the UN. And this made John Bolton sputter with rage, which is always fun.
Next, US and Iranian officials took part in a cordial meeting today at a conference on Afghanistan.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands - In a cautious first step toward unlocking 30 years of tense relations, senior U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke had a brief but cordial meeting with Iran's deputy foreign minister Tuesday at an international conference on Afghanistan.
The rare diplomatic approach was the first official face-to-face interplay between the Obama administration and the Iranian regime. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton cautioned that the brief talks between Holbrooke and Iranian diplomat Mehdi Akhundzadeh were cordial but not "substantive."
"They agreed to stay in touch," Clinton said at the close of a one-day conference on Afghan security and development that was designed partly to allow the diplomatic turn with Iran. She told NBC News, "We think there is room for more engagement with Iran going forward." [...]
The face-to-face pleasantries, along with a diplomatic letter hand-delivered to the Iranian delegation by a U.S. official, were carefully calibrated overtures from the Obama administration aimed at testing the clerical regime's willingness to take larger steps.
This is especially encouraging in light of new Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's messianic rantings about how Obama must stop Iran "or I will." Here on Planet Earth, in the post-Bush era we engage with enemies and exhaust diplomatic avenues instead of the failed neocon policy of belligerence and unilateralism. Israel doesn't have the resources to carry out an attack on Iran, and are only left with bluster. Obama's words of engagement toward Iran mean much more.
Finally, Secretary of State Clinton acknowledged at the same conference in The Hague that the United States no longer uses the phrase "war on terror."
"The administration has stopped using the phrase, and I think that speaks for itself," Mrs. Clinton told reporters as she traveled here for a United Nations-led conference on Afghanistan.
The phrase has been criticized as having inflammatory connotations in the Muslim world. Some Democratic officials believe it is better to describe more specifically whom the U.S. is fighting, such as al Qaeda or the Taliban.
Mrs. Clinton made her remarks in response to reporters' questions. Asked whether there was a specific policy decision on the terminology, she said: "I haven't gotten any directive about using it or not using it. It's just not being used."
President Obama used the phrase a bit during the campaign, but I'm glad to see his Administration dropping it. The entire "war" terminology is unhelpful, whether we're talking about drugs or cancer or poverty. Against terror, the phrase was particularly misapplied. In addition to it being impossible to wage war on a tactic (David Cross famously said "It would be like fighting a war on jealousy"), it has been used to justify all manner of unconstitutional unitary executive rulings that took away civil liberties. There is no reason to be imprecise when talking about war. People may get the idea that you're waging it on them.
All in all, a pretty good day for change in the Obama Administration.