Nuclear summit stars a black man leading the free world

Like all D.C. residents, I gritted my teeth at the tidings of gridlock horror, terrorist threats and armed-camp security preceding the two-day Nuclear Security Summit which ended last night. Like all partisan-weary Americans, I winced at the postulations and vitriol over a “failure” to punish Iran and “keep America strong.”

But like all thoughtful Americans, I went to bed last night a slept a little better that my world was safer. I was also proud in my dreams. The Barack Obama I’d been pining for during these chaotic health care reform waves had emerged. Leader of the Free World. A black man, at that, erecting global coalitions inside a building named for another African-American, Walter Washington, who did the same for neighborhoods within the host city.

Yet the summit’s success includes two ex-Soviet republics abating their frightening, vulnerable nuclear stockpiles—seems to come as a shock only to Obama’s most strident and deranged detractors. Certainly world leaders and their staffers anticipated that the summit would feature Barack Obama at his best. Sitesh Choudury, aide to India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, notes to me how Obama’s shining moments helming the bipartisan White House health care summit in February foreshadowed captaining the nuclear security summit. “The very act of convening a summit is what he [Obama] his made for. He listens to the other side, no matter how venal or silly they may be. He supports his points strongly, but reconciles his position with others to find commonality for solutions.” This doesn’t play well in pundit-driven news-cycles or in Tea Party rallies, but clearly its tonic for global cooperation, even among superpowers.

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Upon his arrival in Washington for the summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev mused that the U.S. finally has a president who not only thinks before he speaks, but thinks, period. Medvedev continued presenting his thesis, one which confirms Obama’s approach as the catalyst for a safer world, in his press conference at the Brookings Institute Tuesday afternoon and later in his evening interview on Russia Today (the U.S. reporting outlet of Russian TV, where I provide commentary).

Compare Obama’s opening statement to the 47 nations… “For the sake of our common security, for the sake of our survival, we cannot drift. We need a new manner of thinking — and action. That is the challenge before us. And I thank all of you for being here to confront that challenge together, in partnership” …with the preamble of the final Communiqué, issued last night…”Nuclear terrorism is one of the most challenging threats to international security, and strong nuclear security measures are the most effective means to prevent terrorists, criminals, or other unauthorized actors from acquiring nuclear materials. In addition to our shared goals of nuclear disarmament, nuclear nonproliferation and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, we also all share the objective of nuclear security.” The passages read like the introduction and conclusion of a persuasive yet scholarly essay drafted solely by this president and no one else in attendance at the Walter Washington Convention Center these past two days.

“This is his element,” a commenter to the Wall Street Journal’s blog grudgingly admits. “He sets the arena, he sits the principals down for face time where he’s at his best in policy wonkery, then he appears presidential and populist in the mass sessions.” On MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, pundit Howard Fineman agrees. The summit’s mere act of getting India and Pakistan, or Russia and China, or France and Vietnam, together on a world stage to protect stockpiles and talk about their reduction is Herculean feat tailored to this president.

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Moreover, the summit is something that his predecessor not only was ill-equipped to pull off, but would likely have found abhorrent. Indeed, the Chinese have stated that George W. Bush took a “wrecking ball” to global issues. President Hu Jintao now beams the exact opposite assessment of Obama, despite Tuesday’s disagreements on crippling Iran, as well as “sideline” financial and trade issues. Still, Obama secured Hu’s assistance for the UN Security Council Iran sanctions drafting group, and bilateral cooperation in dealing with North Korea and its nukes (and choking off attempts by Kim Jong Il to peddle fissile materials or delivery systems). And of course, Hu’s a signatory to the summit’s prime success: the Communiqué.

The Summit’s limited purpose was manifest: prevent a nation’s sloppiness or parochial paranoia from becoming fodder for a terrorist or separatist guerrilla obtaining a nuclear device. D.C. is a target, D.C. is my home.

I applaud Obama, heartily, for engineering global cooperation so that my family doesn’t die under a heap of smoldering, irradiated rubble…all from a clump of fissile material no bigger than a child’s Nerf® football. Yes, perhaps if the president used to disciplined, limited, cooperative approach to health care reform—one better suited to his strengths and style— insanity wouldn’t infuse current domestic political realm. His popularity would be several ticks higher. But as Harry Truman once said to African-American diplomat Dr. Ralph Bunche, in foreign affairs the president’s at his zenith of personality and imagination, rather than the nadir of dealing with Congress. ”…[A]nd you can use Arab words like ‘zenith’ and ‘nadir’ and not have a mugwumped columnist, hayseed radio prophet or blowhard Senator calling you an ‘egghead.’”

Barack Obama discovered Truman’s joy and freedom last night. Last night, he was truly Leader of the Free World: a black American, inside a building named for another black American. The Communiqué is voluntary. But at least we have it. We as Americans, as global citizens are better and safer for it. For now, at least…