If you want to know how President-elect Barack Obama's transition team views the world, here's a highly unscientific but very interesting way to figure it out – looking at the order in which Obama called foreign leaders after the Nov. 4 elections.
Piecing together press releases from Obama's website, www.change.gov, and information I obtained from his transition team, Obama has been calling foreign leaders in groups of about half a dozen a day since Nov. 6. Obama aides would only release these groups by their countries' alphabetical order, cautioning that we should not read too much into which foreign leader was called ahead of the other.
Still, if you agree with me that Obama most likely returned foreign leaders' congratulatory messages in order of their countries' importance, an interesting picture emerges.• On Nov. 6, Obama called the leaders of nine countries: Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, Israel, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea and Australia. (I'm not following the Obama transition team list's alphabetical order, because something tells me that Australia was not the first country he called after winning the election.)
• Between Nov. 7 and Nov. 10, Obama called the leaders of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine and the commander of NATO. (Again, I altered the alphabetical order of the list given to me by Obama's transition team, since I have trouble believing that he called Ukraine way ahead of China, or Russia.)
• On Nov. 11, he called Pope Benedict XVI and the leaders of Kenya, India, Brazil and Jordan.
• On Nov. 17, he called the leaders of Georgia, the Philippines and Turkey.
• On Nov. 18, he called the leaders of Ireland, Chile, Argentina, the Palestinian Authority and Kazakhstan.
• On Nov. 19, he called the leaders of Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Colombia and the secretary-general of the United Nations.
• Between Nov. 20 and Nov. 24, he called the presidents of Afghanistan, Indonesia, Haiti and the president of the European Commission. Since then, he has been calling the leaders of smaller countries and international organizations, including a Nov. 26 call to the leader of the United Arab Emirates.
Asked about the list, a member of Obama's transition team told me not to take too much of a microscopic look into the order of Obama's phone calls.
There were 'some occasions when the order in which the foreign leaders' calls were returned was determined by scheduling conflicts, since we had to find a time that worked for the leader we were calling and the president-elect,'' the Obama aide said.
Still, the overall picture that emerges from Obama's phone calls is that he started out calling the United States' immediate neighbors and its closest allies across the world.
In addition to Canada and Mexico, some of the first phone calls he made went to Britain, Germany, Japan and South Korea.
Immediately afterward, he called Washington's biggest rivals and some of the world's most strategically important countries, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Then, he called the world's emerging powers, including India and Brazil, and the rest of the world.
What surprised me the most about the list? Among other things, that he hasn't called the president of Iraq yet, and that it took him more than two weeks and calls to at least 33 other foreign leaders before he called Colombia, a key U.S. ally in the hemisphere.
My opinion: Judging from the order of his phone calls to foreign leaders, Obama confirms what we already know from his Cabinet picks – his administration will change the Bush government's foreign policy, but it won't be a radical departure from traditional U.S. diplomacy.
What troubles me somewhat is the relatively low priority he gave to Latin America, a region that should be more important than any other to Washington when it comes to the things that affect Americans' daily lives, including trade, drugs, immigration, the environment and oil security. (Yes, we import more oil from the Western Hemisphere than from the Middle East.)
We're moving into a more regionalized global economy, in which the world will be divided into three blocs -- the Americas, Asia and Europe. To stay competitive and expand its markets, the United States will have to foster closer economic ties with its southern neighbors.
Please keep that in mind, Mr. President-elect.
We are very enthusiastic about your election, and your Cabinet picks so far, but we would be even happier if you placed your Latin American neighbors a little bit higher on the list.