Sunday, January 20, 2008

Challenges for the next president

Exactly one year from now the United States will have a new president.

One thing is clear, the new president will have a number of huge foreign policy challenges to face. Foreign policy, though, really isn’t being talked about either in the campaign speeches or the (seemingly endless) debates. Even Iraq, what we expected to be the number one topic only a few months ago, has been pushed to the back burner.

So with that in mind, I thought that I would – briefly – run through a few of the problems our next president will face.

Let’s start with Iraq, where things are either getting better or worse depending on who you listen to – the World Bank is projecting that Iraq could have economic growth of seven percent this year, while their defense minister is saying the country won’t be able to defend itself for another 10 years. The big decision for the US – whether to stay for the long-term or get out – will likely depend on which party wins the election.

Personally I think that getting involved in Iraq was a distraction from the War on Terror, prevented the US from eliminating al-Qaeda, and has put a terrible strain on our military. I think that we would be better served as a nation if we left. But leaving isn’t a simple matter. Iraq reminds me of the game Jenga – the one with the stack of wooden blocks. Pull out the wrong piece and the whole thing falls apart. Withdrawing US forces will have to be done in a careful, deliberate manner or else the country could rapidly disintergrate, putting our troops in great risk in the process.

In addition to Iraq, there are three hotspots that could explode during the next year, giving the new president a problem to deal with on day one.

First is Pakistan. The presidential elections delayed by the assassination of Benazir Bhutto will have to be held at sometime during 2008. Whether they are fair and open will be another question. There has also been an increase in attacks by terrorist forces in Pakistan in the past few weeks. Two military posts in the Northwest Frontier Province were overrun by Taliban-backed forces last week, and there are increased reports that terrorist forces sympathetic to al-Qaeda are moving into Pakistani cities, particularly Peshawar. Pakistan is far from stable.

Its also quite possible that there could be some level of conflict with Iran this year. President Bush talked tough on Iran during his visit to several Gulf States last week, saying that Iran still posed a threat to the region. Iran, meanwhile, has had several run-ins with US Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz in the past month.

Finally, as has been discussed in a number of posts here, Kosovo should declare its inependence from Serbia sometime in February. Like with Iran, this is a tense situation that has the potential to spin out of control. Will Serbs within Kosovo become the target of violence? And if so, what will Serbia’s reaction be? And will recognition of Kosovo spark other ethnic groups in other countries to make their own declarations (like Bosnia, Georgia and Spain to name a few)?

Aside from conflicts and potential conflicts, the new president will have to deal with some tricky relationships. Our allies in Europe have never quite understood the Bush administration and have tended to view it as an aberration – America going a little nutty for awhile. They expect the next president to take a radically different tack in foreign affairs, especially if that new president is a Democrat. Among they things they expect are that America will join the International Criminal Court and will not only finally ratify the Kyoto Protocols, but will take a leading role in fighting global warming.

Even if the new president is a Democrat though, such drastic steps are unlikely. Countries tend not to suddenly change their policy, and in the case of treaties like Kyoto and the ICC, ratification by the Senate is required. In the Senate there is real reluctance on the part of some Senators to approve these treaties.
Sphere: Related Content

No comments: