The centrality of diplomacy also creates the possibility of a great legacy issue for Obama's foreign policy. That issue was touched upon at the recent forum Foreign Policy conducted with the State Department called "Transformational Trends." During the event, U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon was featured in a keynote conversation. Donilon is one of the key architects with Clinton of this other, more important, pivot -- the one away from a unilateralist, force-based foreign policy to one in which diplomacy, alliances, and coalition-building is more central.
In his candid, wide-ranging comments, Donilon focused on what he saw as America's unique national advantage. "We have," he said, "the ability to work anywhere in the world with allies with whom we have shared threat assessment and established habits of cooperation. This represents a deep investment in an asset none of our peers and none of our competitors have. It's a huge plus for the United States and one that we can never take for granted and must work on constantly."
He went on to say, "As a strategic matter, understanding the importance of our alliances, the renewal of our alliances has been a top priority. People will give their own grades to this. But I think it's fair to say that both in Europe and in Asia, our alliances are in quite good shape after a tremendous amount of effort."
It is hard but important to remember how damaged America's alliances were in the wake of the invasion of Iraq. But this administration came in and made restoring those alliances a top priority. The strategic rebalancing to Asia deepened existing ties from Korea to Japan to Southeast Asia to India. Developing new levels of cooperation with regional powers like Turkey and the moderate Arab states, whether in dealing with Syria or Libya or other regional issues, has been another important dimension of this overall initiative.
Much work remains to be done. Indeed, one could see a second Obama term making significant progress by building on this focus on alliances and diplomacy as the centerpiece of its foreign policy. This is a way to leverage constrained assets and to reduce risk by deepening friendships and cooperation rather than through enhancing our ability to intimidate or impose our will.
Areas of special opportunity should include: tightening ties with our European allies, possibly through seriously consider a U.S.-EU Free Trade Agreement and a similar initiative with our friends in Japan (in both cases, the key will be agricultural subsidies reform, a growing possibility given the fiscal condition of all the participants -- something that will create real goodwill and further possibilities for cooperation with emerging powers like Brazil), deepening ties with India, potentially the emerging power with whom the United States might have the closest and most important ties, strengthening NAFTA given the economic vitality and shared interests associated with the North American resource boom, and seeking institutional reforms in vital multilateral mechanisms such as the NPT, WTO, U.N. Security Council (supporting Brazilian permanent membership in addition to that of India, Japan, and Germany could strengthen ties at a very low cost to the U.S.). Finding ways to work even more effectively with vital partners in the Middle East like Turkey and the moderate Arab states, deepening ties with potential allies in Africa, and supporting our ties with key powers in Asia through moving ahead with Trans-Pacific Partnership and similar regional trade agreements would all augment this effort. Finally, realizing progress on the president's grandest of all initiatives, the one laid out in his Prague speech about moving toward the ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons, would be a dramatic triumph of diplomacy, as would brokering a much-needed deal that would bring into secure existence an independent, viable Palestine that recognizes Israel as its neighbor.
Not all of these goals will be achieved. But the reality is that all of them are possibilities and that they are being discussed. That is a tribute to some of the subtler and more positive changes made in U.S. policy over the past four years. It is also a recognition that such agreements are actually in the interests of all involved. We are, after all, at a moment in which all the world's major powers face great challenges at home and none, including the United States, can afford costly or unilateral ventures elsewhere in the world. It is a time ripe for progress in diplomacy. And we have an administration with a proven commitment to exploring avenues for diplomatic progress that also recognizes that neither America's strength nor our security can be assessed in the number of our divisions or carrier battle groups, but rather in the number of countries that view us as a friend.