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Commentary: What Obama's trip achieved

  • Story Highlights
  • Christiane Amanpour: Obama's trip shows his skill as a deal maker
  • She says he didn't achieve his goals on stimulus, Afghanistan troops
  • Still, she says he succeeded in turning around world opinion on the U.S.
  • Amanpour: Obama's outreach to Turkey sends strong, clear message
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By Christiane Amanpour
CNN Chief International Correspondent
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(CNN) -- Such has been the success of President Obama's first overseas visit that some observers are even suggesting North Korea's weekend rocket launch was not the dreaded "3 a.m. moment," but a golden opportunity for the U.S. president.

Christiane Amanpour says Obama's achievement was to turn around world opinion about the U.S.

Christiane Amanpour says Obama's achievement was to turn around world opinion about the U.S.

Coming just hours before Obama's big speech on combating nuclear proliferation, it added urgency to his proposals.

Analysts are also hailing Obama the deal maker, pointing to how he smoothed away Turkey's opposition to the former Danish prime minister becoming the new NATO secretary general. Turkey had objected because of the Danish cartoon flap, which Muslims viewed as insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

Days earlier at the G-20 summit in London, England, Obama was credited with getting last-minute consensus out of French President Nicholas Sarkozy and Chinese President Hu Jintao over tax havens and financial regulation.

He also keeps inching toward Iran, even though he has not yet sent a direct formal message to its leadership about starting diplomatic engagement. But by now publicly talking about such issues as Iran's political and economic integration in the community of nations, he is steering well clear of the old policy of isolation and regime change.

To make that point, he calls it the "Islamic Republic of Iran" rather than "the Iranian regime." He still, though, calls on Iran to end its nuclear weapons ambitions, while Iran denies having any such thing, and he threatens to pursue the controversial missile defense shield.

Having just returned from three weeks in Gaza and Afghanistan, I know the pitfalls and problems ahead are obvious. In Gaza, Hamas officials showed me the letter they had sent President Obama asking for direct engagement on the stalled Middle East Peace process. "No Hamas, no peace," Hamas government adviser Ahmed Youssef told me.

While Obama declared again his commitment to get back into the Middle East peace business, the United States does not recognize Hamas, which it calls a terrorist organization. And besides, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's new prime minister, does not recognize U.S. and international policy of a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

The Obama administration's Afghanistan review was the center of attention on his trip, at the NATO, EU and G-20 summits. It seems to be a mix of the old "root out al-Qaeda" policy and a civilian surge to advise on development issues. But in Afghanistan itself, just about everyone told me they really need infrastructure and the basics for a sustainable economy so that they can feed their families.

Afghanistan is mostly rural, yet for instance, because most of the country remains without power, farmers cannot refrigerate and store their produce after harvest. In Eastern Afghanistan, U.S. military officers told me, farmers therefore have to sell it immediately, mostly to Pakistani wholesalers who turn around and sell it right back to the Afghan consumers for triple the price. From the U.S. military to multinational commanders, to the Afghan people themselves, everyone told me development is the only way to stabilize the place.

At the summits, while Obama didn't get the troops he wanted to stabilize Afghanistan nor the massive stimulus he wanted to save the global economy, he did score a big win by turning around world public opinion.

After years of Americans asking plaintively "Why do they hate us?" the United States can now watch the world eagerly cozying up to its new president.

Huge enthusiastic crowds greeted Obama wherever they could. Where Bush was decried as a gung-ho gunslinging cowboy, Obama was hailed as the listener, not the lecturer; as humble, not arrogant; and as an ally, not go-it-alone.

In Strasbourg, France, he held a campaign-style town hall meeting, giving a big set-piece speech, then taking questions from the audience of students from the region, including Americans abroad. He raised the roof whenever he mentioned closing Guantanamo Bay prison and when he declared, "America does not torture."

In Prague, Czech Republic, tens of thousands turned out for his big nuclear policy speech. Crowds waved and cheered. When was the last time that happened to an American president? As for the world leaders he was meeting with all week, a picture with Obama was worth a thousand words...or votes.

Back in are the days when politicians can make hay at home by basking in the glory of the superpower president. Out are the days when politicians can gain by tapping into anti-American sentiment.

Perhaps the single jolliest picture was of a beaming Obama surrounded by the megawatt grins of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi and Russia's Dmitry Medvedev. If he did not get all the substance he was seeking, he certainly got the rave reviews.

And by making his last stop Turkey, he admitted he was sending a strong and clear message: That America is forging a new path to the Muslim world based on mutual respect and dignity, and that the old paradigm where all America's relationships were shaped by the "war on terror" is giving way to strategic pragmatic policy in the face of some of the most glaring global challenges of modern times.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Christiane Amanpour.

All About Barack ObamaIranTurkeyDmitry Medvedev

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