President Barack Obama signaled a sharp break from the foreign policy of the previous administration by declaring he would seek "a new way forward" with the Muslim world.
In his inaugural address, Obama underscored that his foreign policy approach toward Muslim nations will be firm on leaders "who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West" but that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect," he said.
The war in Gaza may be wrapping up as Israel works to withdraw its troops from the Gaza Strip, but for Obama, the challenges of foreign policy are just beginning.
Past generations understood that more than "missiles and tanks" were required to face down global threats, Obama said; so were "sturdy alliances and enduring convictions." "They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please," he said. "Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort—even greater cooperation and understanding between nations."
In particular, he said, that will include forging peace in Afghanistan, leaving Iraq "responsibly," and working against the threats of nuclear power and global warming. Meanwhile, he said, "we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders." Instead, he pledged to work with poor nations to help them develop and flourish.
Perhaps Obama's most difficult task will be to face Iran, which is believed to be pursuing the development of a nuclear arsenal. Obama signaled during the campaign that he might be open to a diplomatic initiative with Tehran, but the difficulties of confronting the Iranian regime, and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will loom large for the new president.
If foreign policy played a significant role in Obama's speech today, it will also be the first item on his agenda on his first day in office. His pick for secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is expected to be confirmed tomorrow, after which he'll name former Sen. George Mitchell as his Middle East envoy in a first, quick step toward engaging Israelis and Palestinians on the conflict in Gaza. He'll then meet with his National Security Council to discuss—and reassess—the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And by the end of the week, he plans to issue an order to shut down the Guantánamo Bay detention center.