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March 23, 2023

Obama II: Foreign policy priorities

The actually easy (considering the electors’ ratio) victory President Barack Obama obtained a week ago over the Republican challenger Mitt Romney makes a debate on its causes less important. It is probably important to both parties’ strategists, who are already working on the next presidential campaign four years from now, in order to take the most effective positions and the profile of the chosen candidate to be closer to the winning one. But more important from the point of view of the next four years seems to be trying to decipher, in this interval, the foreign trends of President Obama in his second and last term. Because, on the one hand, he has the opportunity and capability to initiate almost instantly ‘moves’ in the foreign policy, without having to wait – as it could have been the case if Romney had been the winner – to get used to the various ‘dossiers’ and, on the other hand,  there are already acute issues waiting for a settlement.

Those pertaining to the foreign policy and internationals security fields are the more so important as they were put off by the presidential year in the US and developed in the meantime important indicators of risk in the absence of a prompt ‘treatment’. However, it doesn’t mean that the domestic matters could suffer delays itself, knowing that a necessary balance between both political levels is the key to a successful presidential term in the US and beyond. So what sort of dossiers are waiting for an immediate presidential intervention? And, on the other hand, what are the expectations in the various parts of the world of the new/old American presidency? First of all, we find that what urbi at orbi expect is Obama to take a different posture than the one contained in the ‘leading from behind’ phrase (applied to Libya in 2011), in other words, a proactive kind of policy. Because the ‘leading from behind’ philosophy is deemed nothing more than postponing firm decisions designed to solve or open the prospects for solving pending dossiers. The Middle East includes at least three such dossiers waiting for a quick decision from President Obama. Not in the order of their importance, these dossiers are Syria, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the Syrian case – already augmented in the last days by some odd exchange of fire on Golan Heights that, since 1973, have been the division line between the country and Israel  – an American ‘direction; is a must for ending the blood-shedding civil war which threatens to become regional. It is still to be determined what exactly this direction will consist of, but it cannot set aside the other dossier, concerning Iran, and Russia and China’s positions in the matter. Identifying a solution that, on the one hand, can ensure a post-Assad evolution at high rate and engaging the country in a transition process free from sectar shakes and, on the other hand, can prevent a regional war or the division of the country is what is expected. But it obviously can include both support for the Syrian opposition and negotiations with the major interested global actors.Equally, in the Iranian dossier it is expected that, keeping the military option among the ways through which it could be avoided that Tehran develops the nuclear weapon, negotiations on the ‘5 plus 1’ group will come to an appropriate solution. On the one hand, such a solution could include Tehran’s accession to the uranium enrichment process but in only in the quantities required for civil use, as well filed inspections to buy time for an intervention to block the production of the nuclear weapon before it is too late. The difficulty of such a solution resides exactly with the fact that it calls for cooperation with Tehran based on trust on both sides, something improbable in the absence of an evolution of the country’s leadership. Talks however need to be started at any cost in order to facilitate openness in other hot matters of the region. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, it is still unknown how Washington is going to act to restart the peace process, as the election to be held in Israel at the beginning of next year and the appointment of an American mediator are events of utmost importance. Equally, in the same context, the way in which Washington’s relations with the Arab states – first of all Egypt – where large-scale transformations have occurred in the aftermath of the ‘Arab spring’, will have a special influence on regional developments. The relation with China will show how well the first ‘Asian’ president’ as Obama called himself, with reference to the ‘pivot’ assumed by the USA in 2012 as its big strategy for the 21st century, will know how to generate a predictable solution on a medium to long term. Between the partnership/confrontation options, it is obvious that the choice can only be the first one, as a conflict of the two colossi would cause systemic devastation. The new Chinese leadership – the fifth generation of leaders installed after 1949 last week, starting with Xi Jinping, is a partner of negotiation with still unknown objectives. However, it is obvious that the new leadership is under massive domestic pressure pushing for raising the visibility of the systemic stature recently gained by this huge country thanks to its explosive economic growth. From territorial questions to the competition for resources, from association with the systemic leadership to an amplification of Beijing’s predictability and commitments to finding solutions to the major international dossiers, there is a vast array of options of initiative in a bilateral relationship that is going to be crucial in the 21st century. Europe, Africa and Latin America are the globe’s regions where there are quite high expectations from the old/new administration. Strengthening the trans-Atlantic link to disable the perception that the US have taken a step back from the Old Continent’s matters in the form of a free trade area with the EU – is the European expectation. German daily ‘Der Spiegel’ was stating recently that ‘The president’s focus on the Asia-Pacific region in recent years has made clear to his European partners that the old Continent no longer ranks first in the American president’s eyes.’ In Africa, Washington is expected to cater for the interests of a continent looking for stability and prosperity. The shaping up of a new focal point of terrorism coagulation in Mali (the northern part of the country) is a signal that the fight against that dangerous enemy must be carried on with perseverance. And Latin America is, of course, a ‘field’ where US foreign policy could become visionary and useful on a medium to long term. Neighbouring Cuba is, for instance, on the verge of a decisive generational shift of leaders. Of course, there are also other regions that will capture the attention of the new/old White House administration: from Afghanistan, where the withdrawal planned for 2014 needs careful preparations, to opening the Arctic corridor because of the global warming, from relations with Russia to the global financial crisis so on and so forth. As far as President Obama is concerned, it is the time for action.

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