Listen Up

The foreign-policy edition: Obama uses the L-word, possibly for real.

In an ostensible revamp of White House foreign policy, Obama selected an Arab television network to broadcast his first interview from the White House, his U.N. ambassador promised direct diplomacy with Iran, and, in connection with Middle East policy, he used the word listen in a sincere manner. But words can move the meter only so far, even when they have that “anything Bush can do, I can do differently” overtone. That message, some static from Biden, and more outreach to the congressional GOP notch a 30 on the Change-o-Meter.

The tone Obama struck in Monday’s interview with Al-Aribiya TV represented a distinct departure from the rhetoric of the former president. But talk is just talk, and the interview wasn’t totally devoid of his predecessor’s trademark us-vs.-them speak: “I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians and we will hunt them down,” Obama said at one point. But coupled with the remarks in his inaugural address that he directed toward the Muslim world, the symbolism of Obama giving his first foreign interview to an Arab TV network is hard to miss.

The administration’s U.N. ambassador, Susan Rice, talked, too—promising direct diplomacy with Iranian leaders once they suspend their uranium enrichment programs. Notes the BBC, “Under George W. Bush, there were no direct U.S. nuclear talks with Iran.” Meanwhile, the administration also announced the deployment of George J. Mitchell to the Middle East as a special listening envoy today.

But the New York Times discerns evidence from among Joe Biden’s nondisclosures and harrumphing that indicates—sputter—military operations over Pakistan’s border are not going to change. Yes, “the early signals suggest that Mr. Obama plans to keep up the military pressure” against Taliban and al-Qaida targets in Pakistan’s border areas. Since Obama took office, continued attacks by Predator drones have been reported in the region.

On the domestic front, Obama is still struggling to curry Republican support for his stimulus package. He headed to the Capitol today to wax bipartisan some more. Republicans have so far treated his economic rescue legislation like green eggs and ham, while Obama tries to muster the persuasive power of Sam-I-Am. If Obama doesn’t win GOP support, says the Los Angeles Times, “it could be a bad omen for his efforts to build bipartisan coalitions on even more divisive issues, such as healthcare and energy legislation.”

Finally, matters Web continue to hold the meter back as the remade turns out to be new in content but not so new in form. As Peter Bray complains, Obama’s “remarkable and game-changing online presence during the campaign has probably been crushingly and dully overhauled.”

There’s a lot to cover, so we want to hear your thoughts on what the Change-o-Meter should be taking into account. No detail is too small or wonky. E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.