Obama selling policies abroad, not personal story

The president and the first lady visited India and Indonesia, part of a 10-day trip to Asia, the longest foreign trip of Obama's presidency.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 13, 2010; 9:54 PM

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - Within the high stone walls of St. Xavier's College in Mumbai, Ashreen Irani, a 19-year-old management major, asked President Obama a question that left her fellow students murmuring nervously over its bluntness.

"Why is Pakistan such an important ally of the United States?" Irani said in the city where, two years ago, militants trained in Pakistan came ashore and killed more than 160 people in a days-long siege. "Why hasn't America called it a terrorist state?"

Obama, his shirt collar open to the morning heat, told the student audience that he expected the question. Pakistan's stability matters to the United States, Obama explained, and it should matter to India's young generation also.

The moment, which came early in his Asian tour, announced a shift in how the world views the first African American president of the United States two years into his term. A president once judged largely on the power of his personal story is now being judged more on his policies.

In seeking to repair the U.S. image abroad during his first year in office, Obama often used himself as a parable of America's ability to learn from its mistakes.

But Obama is now pushing policies to strengthen American security and accelerate the U.S. economic recovery, unfolding more slowly than in many other nations, that have met resistance overseas.

He encountered criticism in India over U.S. aid to Pakistan, resistance to his trade ambitions in South Korea and frustration from leaders of the Group of 20 nations with U.S. monetary policy. Those challenges made for some unscripted encounters with the public and some awkward ones with some heads of state.

But there were also flashes of the first-year magic - from his appearance inside India's parliament to his ecstatic reception at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, a childhood home. National security adviser Thomas E. Donilon called the visits "seminal events" in the U.S. relationship with those countries.

At the end of his 10-day trip, which he concluded Sunday with a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Obama returns home with a mix of successes in raising America's profile in Asia and setbacks in transforming the growing markets of the region into ones more amendable to U.S. exports.

"It's not just a function of personal charm," Obama said after the Group of 20 meeting in Seoul, referring to the economic issues that remain largely unresolved. "It's a function of countries' interests and seeing if we can work through to align them."

India: Complaint

Obama left Washington weakened politically after midterm voters punished his party for the anemic U.S. economy. His mission in Asia, home to some of the world's fastest growing economies, was primarily an economic one.

Over three days, his longest stay in any foreign country as president, Obama announced the removal of export controls on India's space and defense industry, supported India's bid for a permanent seat on an expanded U.N. Security Council and announced export contracts for U.S. airplanes, jet engines, and mining equipment. His message: India generates U.S. jobs, not just takes them.

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