Daunting Challenges Ahead

Obama also faces a number of major foreign and national security challenges.

BlackEnterprise.com concludes its two-part series on the challenges and expectations that await President-elect Barack Obama when he takes office on Jan. 20, 2009.

CONFRONTING THE ‘AXIS OF EVIL’

Obama also faces a number of major foreign and national security challenges. “The most critical first step will be to set priorities because if he tries to respond to them simultaneously he will get overwhelmed,” says John Ruggie, a professor of international affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Although Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East peace process are critical priorities, he believes overtures to Russia would pay dividends because of the nation’s potentially damaging relationship with Iran.

“The relationship between Russia and the U.S. is bad and has gotten worse during the Bush years. A lot of it has to do with Russians feeling humiliated over and over again. This can be repaired in part simply through attention and psychological reassurances. It would help with a number of issues, including Iran, and have spillover benefits for other problems,” says Ruggie. Saturday, Obama spoke to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Both believe an “early bilateral meeting” should be arranged, according to a Kremlin statement.

The president-elect’s dedicated opposition to the war in Iraq helped him win the presidential nomination, and American’s will be looking to him to end it as quickly as possible. In addition, more troops are needed in Afghanistan and Israeli-Palestinian peace process continues to essentially go nowhere.

“Under Obama, I believe the U.S. will look at a variety of options, including diplomacy, a greater emphasis on multilateral initiatives, and a willingness to use military force where deemed necessary in a more precisely targeted and proportional manner,” says Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of California at San Francisco.

While Obama will take his lead from commanders on the ground, Zunes expects that he will live up to his promise to de-escalate U.S. involvement in Iraq. He says Obama will begin a staged withdrawal of turning power over to Iraqi and maintain a military presence that is limited to protecting American personnel, Iraqi forces and the green zone around embassies and government buildings. He may also maintain a quick reaction force in the region for urgent operations. “There will be a definite scaling back of U.S. operations,” says Zunes. “It won’t be enough to make a lot of the anti-war people happy but will be a much less costly American involvement than we currently have.”

GETTING TOUGHER BUT SMARTER

As troops are deployed from Iraq they will be free to go to Afghanistan, which is a more pressing national security problem. But even more important, Zunes believes, is a more comprehensive approach. First, military operations must be geared to more targeted Special Forces and commandos going after Taliban concentrations without killing innocent villagers, which fires up terrorist factions.

“He’s also emphasized pressuring the Afghan government to clean up his act and seems to take seriously the idea of reconstruction. The average Afghan is poor and lives in a harsh environment. If there’s

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