Six months after he ascended to the presidency of the United States, Barack Obama can point to a distinct new tone in American foreign policy and the start of a discernible makeover of the country's image around the globe. When it comes to specific achievements in the international arena, however, the administration does not have much to show, so far.
The transformation of America's global standing had already started even before the president moved into his new Pennsylvania Avenue address on Jan. 20. Two factors triggered the process. First, Obama replaced a man who had become extraordinarily unpopular throughout most of the world. The mere anticipation of George W. Bush's exit had begun to erase America's tarnished image.
Second, the election of Barack Obama -- the man and the symbol -- sent a series of messages to the rest of the world. Obama's election revived America's power to inspire as a land of unlimited opportunities for individuals of all descriptions. It reaffirmed America's willingness and ability to rise above its flaws -- in this case, racism -- and repair itself in the broken places. The other message came from Obama himself, who campaigned on a platform of reconciliation with America's foes, with an implicit promise to do a better job of understanding and valuing other views and other cultures.