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First 100 Days

John Wayne, Meet Stuart Smalley -- Obama Team Strikes Special Diplomatic Tone

Call it your daily affirmation. 

The Obama administration over the past several weeks has developed a certain conciliatory style of diplomacy, striking a hard contrast between this White House and its predecessors. 

While George W. Bush drew charges of "cowboy diplomacy" for his unilateral style of doing things, the Obama team might just be the Stuart Smalley counterpart to Bush's John Wayne

Smalley, you may recall, was Al Franken's lovable alter-ego on Saturday Night Live -- an uncertified gusher of self-help advice who often needed that advice more than his guests. 

"I deserve good things. I am entitled to my share of happiness," he used to recite to himself. "I refuse to beat myself up. I am an attractive person. I am fun to be with." 

Maybe President Obama's daily sessions with senior advisers don't begin with a daily affirmation, but the similarities are there. 

Smalley often had his guests repeat his mantras. 

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough and, doggone it, people like me." It's a line many Americans surely still say to themselves every morning when they brush their teeth. 

The Obama administration, likewise, has invited a list of nations to join him on the couch, put down their guard and share in that sense of satisfaction. 

"We know that you are a great civilization, and your accomplishments have earned the respect of the United States and the world," Obama said in a Web video message to Iran in celebration of Nowruz, the country's new year, last week, praising the country's art, music and literature that have "made the world a better and more beautiful place." 

Earlier this month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Russia's foreign minister to pursue what she called a "fresh start." 

She presented Sergei Lavrov with a toy red button that, despite a typo, was supposed to say "Reset" in English. 

"We want to reset our relationship. And so we will do it together," Clinton said. 

Smalley often urged famous and successful guests to come to terms with the fact they don't have to be Superman all the time. 

When Michael Jordan joined the show, Smalley counseled: "I don't have to be a great basketball player. ... I don't have to dribble the ball fast or throw the ball into the basket. 

"All I have to do is be the best Michael I can be." 

When Al Gore came on the set, Smalley told him: "I don't have to be the most powerful man in the world. ... I don't have to be able to bomb a country any time I want." 

Obama seems to have come to terms with that line. 

When the president granted his first TV interview after taking office to Al Arabiya in late January, he made clear he was just trying to be the best president he could be. 

"All too often the United States starts by dictating ... and we don't always know all the factors that are involved. So let's listen," he said. "And I think if we do that, then there's a possibility at least of achieving some breakthroughs." 

He continued: "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect." 

But doggone it, people still like us. 

Obama appears to be following up on his Al Arabiya pledge with his visit next month to Turkey, where he will attend a meeting of the United Nations' Alliance of Civilizations -- a group intended to promote reconciliation between Western and Muslim countries. 

The alliance, however, has been accused of bias against Western nations. In 2006, it issued a paper accusing the West of stoking "Islamophobia" -- and, in turn, Muslim hostility toward the West -- by using terms like "Islamic terrorism." 

Incidentally, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano avoided using terms like "terrorism" and "September 11" at her first congressional hearing. And the Obama administration has replaced, though not officially, the term "Global War on Terror" with "Overseas Contingency Operations." 

That's kind of like when Smalley tried to convince actor Martin Lawrence he wasn't white to defuse the tension between them. 

"I'm more flesh-colored," Smalley explained. (This upset Lawrence, and Smalley apologized.) 

While Smalley was an often timid and fragile self-help host, few could argue the steadfast Obama lets his setbacks get under his skin. 

But a move by Clinton on Wednesday sounded like one of Smalley's defense mechanisms -- "I'm gonna die homeless and penniless and 20 pounds overweight, and no one will ever love me," he would say whenever things started to go awry.

Clinton, ahead of her arrival in Mexico City, gave a mega mea culpa, saying the U.S. is equally at fault for much of Mexico's spiraling drug-fueled violence. 

She acknowledged a "co-responsibility" for the conflict -- the kind of admission that Mexico long accused the previous White House of never making. 

"Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade," Clinton said. "Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians." 

As Smalley might say, that's just "stinking thinking." 

Click here to read more about Clinton's Mexico mea culpa.