Obama plans to reshape US image, approach in the world

January 15th, 2009 - 12:10 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Jan 15 (DPA) US president-elect Barack Obama takes office Jan 20 planning to chart a new course for foreign policy, but he will be inheriting a long list of daunting and complex challenges that may leave him with little room to manoeuvre.Since winning the November election, Obama has handpicked a formidable and seasoned group of national security advisers and cabinet secretaries, who will be charged with reshaping the US approach and undoing the damage to the US image incurred by President George W. Bush’s unpopular policies abroad.

Obama faces a slate of troublesome issues, most recently highlighted by the Gaza conflict, in addition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iranian and North Korean nuclear ambitions, a resurgent Russia and the increasingly worrisome threat posed by the instability in Pakistan. None of these problems has singular easy solutions.

“Leadership is what happens when all of your choices are bad, and there are ample opportunities for leadership here,” said John Pike, a foreign policy analyst at Globalsecurity.org.

The largest foreign policy focus of Obama’s campaign was to end the war in Iraq and redeploy US troops to Afghanistan, where fighting has intensified and the outcome has come under heightened doubt. The success of Bush’s troop surge and revised counter-insurgency strategy at reducing violence in Iraq might make this Obama objective more achievable.

Under an agreement with the Iraqi government, US troops must be out of Iraq by 2011, and some drawdowns have already taken place, allowing the Pentagon to start building up forces in Afghanistan. But the Bush administration has made it clear that prevailing in Afghanistan is unlikely unless Pakistan can root out Taliban and Al Qaeda militants who still find refuge in the country’s ungovernable border region to launch attacks on US and NATO forces.

The slow pace of Pakistan’s response in the border areas has frustrated the Bush administration, while assaults launched against the militants have provoked Pakistani popular anger towards Islamabad and raised questions about whether democratic rule in the nuclear-armed state can survive.

“If the extremists succeed in destabilising Pakistan, the chaos will threaten peace and progress throughout the region,” Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said this month. “So stabilising Pakistan must be a first priority for the new administration.”

Obama will have to cope with high expectations in Europe and around the world that his presidency will produce a swift departure from Bush’s policies. Most analysts believe the changes will be in style more than substance.

“Most of the international news media has raised impossibly high, unrealistic expectations on Obama,” Pike said. “What they were celebrating in Europe (with Obama’s victory) was that the things they don’t like about Bush will go away - but they won’t.”

While Obama plans to pursue a broader diplomatic, multilateral approach than Bush and to rely more on American “soft power”, he is likely to keep in place the six-nation talks designed by the Bush administration to deal with North Korea’s nuclear programme, and continue the diplomacy with Europe to pressure Iran to bring its nuclear efforts into compliance with international rules.

In a possible change from Bush, Obama has said he will step up direct contacts with the Iranian regime, a position he reiterated in remarks Friday.

“I have said in the past during the course of the campaign that Iran is a genuine threat to US national security,” Obama said. “But I have also said that we should be willing to initiate diplomacy as a mechanism to achieve our national security goals.”

The Bush administration backed negotiations led by Britain, France and Germany with Iran that began five years ago, and later joined an enlarged group that included China and Russia, but refused to play a direct role in the talks with Tehran. So far, the negotiations have been unsuccessful. Iran has rejected calls to suspend uranium enrichment in return for diplomatic and economic incentives.

Obama won’t have Bush’s luxury of allowing diplomacy to take its course as Iran moves closer to Western intelligence estimates of developing nuclear weapons capability. As Tehran’s nuclear programme continues, Obama’s range of options will grow ever narrower.

“At some point, the diplomacy will have ended,” Pike said, “and he is either going to have to talk the Iranians out of (pursuing nuclear a weapons capability), act militarily or explain why ayatollahs armed with nuclear weapons is not such a bad thing.”

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