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Obama and the "reset" button

Fifty days into his presidency, Obama's foreign policy begins to take shape.

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Mideast Envoy George Mitchell in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington Jan. 26, 2009. Mitchell is scheduled to depart after the meeting for the Middle East to bolster peace negotiations. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — There is not yet an “Obama doctrine.” But there is an overarching metaphor. When it comes to Barack Obama’s approach to foreign policy, the concept that has seized the public’s imagination, here and abroad, is his willingness to push the “reset” button.

“Reboot, reset, re-start the clock,” said former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who served in the Bush administration under former secretary Colin Powell. “I’m all for it.”

Fifty days after taking office, the new president has shown his receptivity to fresh approaches, and has moved swiftly to capitalize on the favorable reception his election — and his appointment of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state — has generated in the world.

“The period in which we are entering is a turning point of a new world,” French Defense Minister Herve Morin said during a visit to Washington this month. “Why? Because this administration, with the huge hope that came along with the election of Barack Obama, sees the opportunity to rebuild the world order in cooperation with the rest of the world.”
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In contrast to delays that have hampered appointments for the Treasury Department and other agencies, Obama quickly named a seasoned national security team and immediately put them to work.

He dispatched envoys to the Middle East and Southwest Asia; changed U.S. policy on detention and torture, declared the end of one war in Iraq; revived another in Afghanistan; launched an international effort for economic recovery; reached out to Russia, Syria, Iran and the Taliban; put a major climate initiative in his first budget and promised some $900 million in aid to the Palestinians to help them recover from the Gaza war.

The administration “wants to channel this energy — this tremendous positive political energy — into action,” said Daniel Fried, an assistant secretary of state.

To be fair, many of Obama’s initiatives are legacies, where he is building on the work of other statesmen.

As George W. Bush’s secretary of defense, Bob Gates laid the groundwork for Obama’s offer to drop deployment of an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe in return for Russia’s help in curtailing Iranian efforts to acquire nuclear weaponry.

The U.S. began talks with Iran during the Bush years, and Iraq and the United States negotiated a timetable for the withdrawal of American combat forces.

And Clinton’s recent approach to Syria followed Syrian willingness to negotiate with Israel — using Turkey as an intermediary — before the Gaza war.

Nor are any of Obama’s moves more assured of success because they come from a fresh source.