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Obama to face 5 key foreign policy problems: Gary Samore

world Updated: Nov 21, 2008 20:01 IST
Pramitpal Chaudhuri

Gary Samore, vice-president of the Council on Foreign Relations, believes the incoming Obama administration faces five key foreign policy challenges, the topmost being global economic crisis, reports Pramitpal Chaudhuri.

The incoming Obama administration faces five key foreign policy challenges, says Gary Samore, vice-president of the Council for Foreign Relations. Uppermost will be handling the present global economic crisis, followed by ending the twin wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. He will also have to decide what to do about the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, try to solve the West Asian peace process and the problem of climate change.

Obama's biggest asset in handling these problems, says Samore, is that "he is not Bush." Samore is unconcerned by Obama's inexperience with the ways of Washington. "He has surrounded himself with extremely experienced people." Samore, a veteran of the administrations of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the two Bushes, says that most US presidents learn quickly. "Within two years Bill Clinton knew more about foreign policy than his advisors," he said.

Obama will seek to end the two wars on "favourable terms" for the US. But Samore made it clear he doubted the next US president will be able to fulfill his election promise of withdrawing in 16 months, or even the 2011 date of the status of forces agreement. "We're stuck there for a while. The real issue is reducing casualty rates to a tolerable level."

Afghanistan is more problematic. Victory there will be much harder for the US. The country has no history of central government and there will always be a temptation to cut deals with the local warlords, he said. Which is why it will be important to first reassert US military preeminence in the country first. The other side of the problem is Pakistan "which has an ineffective government" and is struggling with the Pakistan Taliban.

Iran and its nuclear ambitions are another grave concern for the US. The present strategy of Bush will continue, says Obama. Under this, the focus will be to get a great power consensus on how to tackle Iran, probably considering tighter economic sanctions. "Such countries should include India and Japan." Obama will also be helped by the collapse in oil prices.

He expects Obama to announce his foreign policy head relatively quickly. Many ex-Clintonites believe Obama has already "waited too long."