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The president-elect promised 'a new dawn' in U.S. foreign policy, but what a candidate says and what he can deliver are often miles apart. A look at what awaits Barack Obama.

November 08, 2008|Henry Chu and Megan K. Stack and Mark Magnier and Laura King and Borzou Daragahi and Ned Parker and Tina Susman and Richard Boudreaux and Edmund Sanders and Tracy Wilkinson

Western alliances

What he said: Obama has spoken of the need to repair cracks in America's Western alliances. "America has no better partner than Europe," he told a huge summer rally in Berlin, calling on both sides of the Atlantic to jointly combat terrorism, climate change, nuclear proliferation and other threats.

The reality: Obama will benefit by not being George Bush, who is widely reviled in Europe. But any U.S. attempt to have the North Atlantic Treaty Organization contribute more forces in Afghanistan could meet with resistance. Sluggishness and bickering in Europe could inhibit timely, concerted diplomatic and economic action -- to keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb, for example. Closer U.S. military cooperation with some countries in Eastern Europe could antagonize Russia. Europeans worry that Obama will erect trade barriers and resist subjecting Wall Street to transatlantic oversight.

-- Henry Chu in London

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Russia

What he said: Obama has said that he wants better ties with Moscow. His criticism of the Russian invasion in August to defend separatist rebels in Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia was restrained. He advocates deep cuts in American and Russian nuclear stockpiles, arguing that they will help persuade Iran and North Korea to forgo their nuclear programs.

The reality: It's unlikely that any U.S. president can overcome an accumulation of grievances and forge completely smooth relations with Moscow. It's unclear whether Obama will continue the Bush administration's drive to expand NATO on Russia's border. But an aggressive speech Wednesday by President Dmitry Medvedev, vowing to place short-range missiles on Russia's western border, signals an intent to push back and test the new U.S. leader.

-- Megan Stack in Moscow

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China

What he said: Obama has asserted that China built its huge trade surplus with the U.S. by manipulating the value of its currency. He told an American industry group that he'd press China to focus on domestic demand for future economic growth.

The reality: Currency is only one issue affecting trade. Though U.S. pressure has led China to increase the value of its currency against the dollar over the last two years, that has put only a small dent in the trade surplus. Diplomatic pressure has less of an impact because the two economies are interdependent. China holds about $1 trillion in U.S. government bonds and related debt. China will resist sharp adjustments as the global slowdown causes factories to close and puts more of its citizens out of work.

-- Mark Magnier in Beijing

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Afghanistan

What he said: Obama has said the Afghanistan conflict is central to the fight against terrorism. He has called for the redeployment of combat troops from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to "finish the job" of defeating the Taliban and other Islamic insurgents, whose strength and reach have grown dramatically in the last three years.

The reality: Many diplomats and military strategists believe that even with a substantial troop buildup, the war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily and that the Afghan government will ultimately choose to seek a political settlement. In the meantime, the U.S. may be forced to bear the burden of a buildup largely alone. Although European leaders have warmly welcomed Obama's election, nearly all NATO partners are facing fierce domestic opposition to a greater military commitment in Afghanistan.

-- Laura King in Istanbul

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Iran

What he said: Obama has said that he would not accept a nuclear-armed Iran but would be willing to "open dialogue" with Iran's leadership. He has said he might offer economic incentives if Iran is more cooperative on issues such as terrorism and nuclear development; that would give him more credibility to press for tougher sanctions or even military action if Iran won't cooperate.

The reality: Despite years of international pressure and threats, Iran appears to be edging closer to mastering nuclear technology. To counter that, Obama must rally a stronger international coalition than the Bush administration was able to, outmaneuver Tehran, placate Israeli leaders who might want to strike Iran on their own, and stave off pressure from U.S. groups eager for armed confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

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Iraq

What he said: Obama has said he wants to withdraw all combat troops within 16 months of taking office, in coordination with U.S. commanders and the Iraqi government. A residual force would remain to fight groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq, and advisors would still train Iraqi security forces. Obama has argued that a tight deadline would force Iraqis to take steps toward political reconciliation.

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