Thursday, April 02, 2009

Obama is already writing the book on Diplomacy

This story is a reminder of why so many of us worked so hard to get Barack Obama elected President. He's showing exactly the kind of diplomatic skills we so desperately need in anyone who would help America be a leader in the world again.

Read the full thing, but here's a teaser:

According to sources inside the room, President Obama just played peacemaker in a spat between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Hu Jintao, President of the People's Republic of China.
The dispute? Sarkozy, on behalf of France and other European nations, wants stricter standards for tax havens, and specifically wanted to publish a list of non-compliant jurisdictions. The Chinese fear that cracking down on such places would endanger major Chinese banking centers like Hong Kong and Shanghai.

So what did Obama do?

Mr. Obama, according to this account, stepped between the two men, urging them to try to find consensus, and giving them a "pep talk" about the importance of working together.

The senior adminstration official said that Mr. Obama pulled Mr. Sarkozy aside, took him to a corner, "and discussed possible alternatives," the senior official said.

Once they arrived at one, President Obama "sent a message to the Chinese" that a counter-offer was on the table. The Chinese spent some time considering the offer. But they took a few minutes.

So Mr. Obama, with the assistance of translators, suggested that he and Mr. Hu have a conversation as well. They, too went to the corner to talk. After a few minutes, Mr. Obama called upon Mr. Sarkozy to join them.

"Translators and sherpas in tow, they reached an agreement," the official said. "There was a multiple shaking of hands."

That is what diplomacy looks like. You look for your common concerns and build on those. You don't go for the heart of the issue, which can be divisive. You nibble around the edges until you find the core principles you both agree on.

I wish activists across the political spectrum could learn this trick. And I wish a lot of journalists and historians could UNLEARN this one. I recall talking to a mainstream journalist, who was very much about forging a "consensus" about what happened in Dealey Plaza. To me, the truth is absolute, whether we ever agree upon it or not. But in politics, and action, consensus-building is a necessary skill.

His ability to talk to differing parties and bring them together is what drew me to Obama in the first place. I started looking into his background, since the press wasn't talking about it, and found he had a long history of bringing disparate groups together (like getting the police and anti-death penalty advocates to agree on measures that would reduce the number of innocent people on death row).

I'm really proud of my president today. I hope we get to hear many more stories like this in the months and years to come.


Blogger Carl Williams, Wichita, KS said...

Lisa! A-#%@#ing-MEN! YES!

That is, indeed, what should have been happening over the past decade ...but, which was painfully lacking because macho, testosterone-poisoned leaders who view the world through a "bring 'em on" mentality would never understand.

Thanks for the post. It's very insightful AND encouraging!
Carl Williams, Wichita

10:20 AM  
Anonymous CyrilB said...

Yep, I saw the full press conference from Sarkozy, who was gushing about 1) winning regulatory measures against traditional anglo-american philosophies, and 2) getting Obama's help in doing so. He specifically & repeatedly mentioned Obama's help in getting Hu Jintao on board. And when you know our egomaniac "divider en chef", you really apreciate Obama's feat here.
The newbie US president bringing the French and the Chinese together on an international regulatory measure. Unbelievable.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous simpilmindz said...

I'm wondering how Obama's Afghan surge fits into this diplomacy scenario? See, for example, this London Times article:

I reserve judgment on Obama for the moment.

12:11 PM  

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