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Author Topic: The Real World: Obama Foreign policy 12NOV08  (Read 1238 times)


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The Real World: Obama Foreign policy 12NOV08
« on: November 12, 2008, 02:02:32 pm »
The Real World: Obama

Foreign policy promises will quickly bump up against circumstances

By Ralph Peters

On Nov. 4, the American people spoke. In the coming months, our enemies will speak. During this transition period and immediately after our new president's inauguration, hostile actors around the globe will test a leader they view as untried and naive.

As president, Barack Obama will have to establish a strong identity quickly. Expectations, at home and abroad, are diffuse and contradictory. Just as American voters projected their own convictions onto both candidates, so allies and enemies overseas have constructed their own preferred images of Obama. Wishful thinking will have to be dispelled as our new president puts our interests first.

Utterly unexpected events could blindside us, but the following are a few of the looming challenges the Obama administration will face as it seeks its footing:


The president-elect has pledged prompt troop withdrawals, and his base expects him to act. But he won't want to be seen as the "man who lost Iraq" and who reversed al-Qaeda's strategic catastrophe. Obama is fortunate that the improved security situation will, indeed, allow substantial withdrawals. Even so, troops in significant numbers will need to remain for years to guarantee gains.

Even if President Obama ordered an immediate, total withdrawal, dismantling our effort and moving out of Iraq would be a huge logistical undertaking: It will take years to dismantle what it took years to build up. And our actions must be calculated to guarantee the gains made at such great cost.

Afghanistan and Pakistan.

During his presidential campaign, Obama made ambitious claims about this region, vowing to capture Osama bin Laden. Should the arch-terrorist be killed or captured, it will result from an intelligence break, not a campaign promise. Obama also has vowed to do a better job at winning in Afghanistan than President Bush has. But Afghanistan presents even deeper problems than did Iraq: It will take a generational commitment to ameliorate them, and they'll never be fully solved. You don't win in Afghanistan -- you just make sure your enemies don't win, either. Although engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains essential, the key is to have realistic expectations of what can be achieved.

Israel, Syria and Lebanon.

However incorrectly, Arab radicals and regimes perceive the president-elect as more favorable to their cause and less friendly to Israel. This is a formula for provocations by Hezbollah and Syrian machinations in Lebanon that could precipitate war as soon as next year. As president, Obama will need to be explicit in his commitments. He can no longer seek to be all things to all people.


The most complex culture in the region is also the most difficult to deal with. The regime in Tehran faces internal disappointment with its performance, but it views nuclear weapons as an all-purpose answer. As for negotiations, Tehran consistently uses them to buy time. Possessed of nuclear weapons, Iran would dominate the Persian Gulf and the world's key oil reserves -- as well as threaten Israel. And concepts such as mutually assured destruction might not deter religious extremists. Again, there's no good solution.


One day after the U.S. election, President Dmitry Medvedev made a bellicose speech aimed at Obama. Announcing the intention to deploy a new generation of mid-range missiles to the Kaliningrad exclave -- behind NATO lines -- Medvedev explicitly threatened the U.S. missile-defense system to be deployed on Polish soil, and Poland itself.

With Russia's economy in a far more fragile state than outsiders realize, the regime of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin might exploit this period of transition in Washington both to further its ambitions in neighboring states -- such as Ukraine -- and to divert attention from domestic problems by exciting nationalist passions.

Our military.

Obama has promised to strengthen our armed forces. He won't be able to do it. Facing massive debts and decreased revenues, his budget staff will look for places to cut. Unable to trim entitlement programs -- and with vast campaign promises to fulfill before 2012 -- Obama almost inevitably will turn to the Pentagon as a source of savings.

The Obama administration will begin by trying to kill Cold War legacy systems of marginal utility, but he will run into bipartisan opposition in Congress. Legislators love to praise our troops, but they vote to preserve defense contracts. Our soldiers have no lobbying clout comparable to that of defense-industry giants. Budget advisers will fall back on cutting people and benefits, while an influential minority of political activists will be delighted to punish the military.

The long list of challenges runs from a crisis of shattered expectations in China, to the antics of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. Somalia is lawless, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo is drenched in blood. Even Mexico -- the state most vital to our security -- faces a disintegrative level of lawlessness. For all the global goodwill toward our next president, additional troop commitments from our allies will be few, while their expectations will be high. Obama, too, will find that there are times when a U.S. president must act because no one else will.

The potential tragedy of our charismatic next president is that he could repeat the patterns of his Democratic predecessors -- Johnson, Carter and Clinton -- in coming to the White House with a strong domestic agenda, only to be beleaguered by foreign policy.

Ralph Peters is a member of USA TODAY's board of contributors and the author, most recently, of Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.

USA Today
November 12, 2008
Pg. 11

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