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April 20th, 2009
08:44 AM ET

Dear President Obama #91: With friends like these...

Reporter's Note: Another week, and as of yet President Obama has not rescinded his request for advice from common citizens on how to run the country even though I have been sending a letter a day since his inauguration. So either my notes are working, or the White House staff hasn’t collected all the bets yet on when I’ll give up.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I used to be a movie critic in addition to being a crack reporter, and as such I saw two or three movies every week for several years. Let me tell you that’s a lot of popcorn with artificial buttery topping, and I chugged down enough of those industrial size buckets of soda to float a tugboat.

And as you might guess, I became appallingly familiar with the “conventions” of filmmaking, especially when it came to plot. I could pick out the doomed sidekick the minute he hit the screen. I knew which insignificant detail “Oh yeah, I studied herpetology at Arizona State,” would prove unexpectedly critical to solving the crime. And I could spot the bad guys. You know what the first clue is? They look like good guys when the hero first meets them.

Usually the introduction comes through some trusted intermediary, like Bob-the-underpaid-but-seemingly-trustworthy-aide. “James, this is Sheriff Tangerine. He’s going to help you with the investigation, and let you me assure you, I’d trust him with my life.” Only later, as the tanned and heavily armed sheriff is chasing James through the bayous with an airboat and a high-powered rifle does it become clear that Bob sold James out for ten thousand dollars and a yearly pass to the Hijinks Lanes Bowling Emporium.

Life is not really like the movies, of course. Situations are rarely as clear as the silver screen makes them. But this is the same: Villains in real life usually do a pretty good job passing themselves off as friends when they think they have something to gain.

You have been taking a little heat over your smiling, hand-shaking photos with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Some of the criticism is unjustified. After all, you told everyone that you were going to reach out to some traditional enemies for serious talks about our differences. You are fulfilling a campaign promise. And you can’t very well do that with a scowl on your face or an obvious briefcase full of mistrust at your side, otherwise what’s the point?

And so far you’ve received at least some indications that some of these old foes might indeed be willing to revisit some of our old sticking points and see if maybe we can unstick them. Good for you. Best of luck with that.

But here comes the advice: Don’t forget even as you forge onward that there is a real reason (and sometimes several reasons) that these folks became our enemies in the first place. North Korea. Iran. Cuba. We did not wind up at odds with these nations simply because of hurt feelings or a schoolyard spat, and rebuilding genuine alliances with them will be a long, arduous task, filled with many potential pitfalls.

That does not mean we should not try. As many voters have noted, our traditional way of handling these international opponents has not produced particularly good results in recent decades. But please, for you sake and the nation’s, do be careful.

Maybe they will be your friends. Maybe this past week signals the first step in what will be a triumphant march to a new age of international cooperation. But it could also be that the Hollywood ending you wind up with, will not be the kind you are hoping for.

New week getting underway. You must be tired from all the travel, but I can’t help but say you look really invigorated by it. Me? Spent part of the weekend cleaning the garage, and between the dust and ever-changing spring weather around here now I have a cold. Bummer.

I’d appreciate a call if you get a moment, but I’ll understand if you catch up on sleep instead.

Regards,

Tom

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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