Foreign Policy Blogs

The Company You Keep

These days, the two connected concerns of this blog — foreign opinion of the U.S. and how U.S. Presidential candidates would deal with it — are in the background while America struggles at home.

The economy overshadows Iraq as America's chief concern. The dead-heat race for the Democratic nomination is in turmoil over the inflammatory comments by Barack Obama's former pastor.

Doubtless some of what Rev. Wright says would be endorsed by America's more vociferous overseas critics. But with supporters like that, who needs detractors? Obama's main concern, at this point, is to denounce, renounce or otherwise distance himself from the controversial pastor while minimizing the importance of his 20-year relationship with him. To do one without the other, will call into question Obama's judgment. To do nothing will let a train wreck lie on the tracks in full view.

Mentor, pastor, spiritual advisor — whatever Jeremiah Wright was to Barack Obama, today he is something else. Wright's latest behavior suggests that he is following his own agenda — not Obama's. Will this eventually help disassociate the two men and move Wright away from the spotlight? No one knows for sure. All that is clear is that Wright is radioactive.

This point, expressed more broadly, has a relevance to public diplomacy.  Candidates or countries understandably welcome external support, but who the supporter is matters fundamentally.  Praise from Wright is now as politically unwelcome as praise from Ahmadinejad.

Forget Iran.  Obama needs direct talks with his enemies at home.



Mark Dillen

Mark Dillen heads Dillen Associates LLC, an international public affairs consultancy based in San Francisco and Croatia. A former Senior Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department, Mark managed political, media and cultural relations for US embassies in Rome, Berlin, Moscow, Sofia and Belgrade, then moved to the private sector. He has degrees from Columbia and Michigan and was a Diplomat-in-Residence at the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins. Mark has also worked for USAID as a media and political advisor and twice served as election observer and organizer for OSCE in Eastern Europe.

Areas of Focus:
US Government; Europe; Diplomacy