Obama puts his foreign policy on display: at once, the hand of friendship, the hand of might

Associated Press
Associated Press
Monday, March 21, 2011; 2:16 PM

SANTIAGO, Chile - Seeking to set an example for the Middle East, President Barack Obama will tout the successful transitions to democracy across much of Latin America during a speech in Chile Monday.

Air Force One touched down in Santiago early Monday afternoon. Obama, traveling with wife Michelle Obama and their two daughters, will spend less than 24 hours in Chile, the second country they've visited on the president's three-nation, five-day tour of Latin America.

The president and first lady were greeted by Chilean President Sebastian Pinera (peen-YEH'-rah) in an elaborate arrival ceremony at Chile's presidential palace, La Moneda Palace. Obama and Pinera walked a red carpet flanked by the Chilean military, with Mrs. Obama and Chile's first lady following behind.

Much of Obama's public diplomacy here has been overshadowed by the use of military power in Libya. During his first stop, a two-day visit to Brazil, he balanced outreach to an increasingly influential Latin American neighbor with meetings and secure phone calls to approve missile attacks on Libya's air defenses. En route to Chile, Obama was briefed on the operation in Libya during an hour-long conference call with top U.S. officials.

He's not likely to escape the awkward, if not incongruous, contrasts during his stay in Santiago.

During a news conference with Pinera, Obama will take questions for the first time since allied forces began enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya with jets and warships. Then he will deliver a speech, meant to address the entire Latin American world, praising the democratic transitions in the Americas and holding them up as models for the world.

It certainly wasn't planned that way.

"The world obviously is a complex place, with a lot of things going on at once, but it's precisely that - a lot of things going on at once," said White House national security aide Daniel Restrepo.

Obama, however, twice scrapped trips in 2010 to Indonesia and Australia, once to lobby for his health care bill, now law, and then because of the Gulf oil spill.

In this case, with conflict in North Africa competing for his time with friendship in Latin America, Obama aides say his determination to complete his trip illustrates his commitment to U.S. neighbors. Aides also pointed to elections in Egypt as evidence that not all is ablaze or in turmoil in the Middle East.

Still, his team was eager to portray him as fully engaged in Libyan decision-making, even as the photographs and television images showed him touring a Rio de Janeiro shantytown and gazing with his family at Christ the Redeemer, the massive Art Deco mountaintop statue that has come to symbolize Rio.

National security adviser Tom Donilon gave practically an hour-by-hour account of meetings, briefings and calls that Obama led or participated in, including a call to King Abdullah of Jordan on Sunday.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Washington Post Company