Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama: Great speech but can he deliver?

Posted 6:00AM Tuesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's goals...can he execute?

At this time of change, we need to remind our readers that the Global Power Barometer measures "which nations, ideologies or movements are best exercising their power to achieve their desired goals." In the process of defining the "desired goals" of any player, we need to figure out what they are. Then, GPB staff and computers can measure progress. After a significant change in any nation's government, we need to adjust the goals we have for that country.

In the case of the new Obama Administration, we understand general directions, but we do not yet fully understand specific foreign policy goals. Nor do we fully understand execution strategies and whether the Obama Administration will learn from the mistaken strategies of the past years and begin to fight the next crisis rather than the last crisis.

Here are the general goals we've been able to identify so far:

* Restoration of US global influence. By this, we mean not just restoring the image of the US, but increasing its "soft power" or "smart power" as Hillary Clinton put it in her confirmation hearings. Certainly, the mere act of electing an African American by the name of Barack Hussein Obama has raised US standing throughout the world (a good friend of ours...a traveling through Africa and has reported uncountable celebrations...formal and also spontaneous street celebrations). But we're not yet sure whether the Obama Administration fully understands the "power of smart" in controlling particularly the success of non-state actors such as al-Qaeda, or in stabilizing failing states, but they clearly have made re-establishing US influence a high priority. Connected with this, it appears the Obama Administration also has recognized the key role of diplomatic power in resolving international disputes...that's diplomatic "power" not just "diplomacy". It means creating and revitalizing alliances that can themselves put pressure on rogue nations. At least initial signs are that the new Administration gets the point that multilateralism - not unilateralism - is key to a peaceful 21st Century world.
* Phased withdrawal from Iraq. The Obama Administration is stuck with what has been negotiated between the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government...due for a vote in July. But the trick will be how they deal with the inevitable increases in conflict among religious groups and tribal factions as Iraqis have to govern themselves (see today's US Articles).
* Reintroduction of the US to the Mideast peace process. We've not yet identified a goal because many analysts believe the 2-state option is dead, having its coffin sealed by rocket attacks and the Israeli tactic of punishing civilian populations for transgressions of its elected leaders. Without a clear view of a solution, the present Obama goal is only to get itself back into the game. Of course, connected closely to this is the US relationship to Israel. Obviously, Mr. Obama will keep the relationship strong. But in the incremental world of diplomacy, many analysts expect an Obama Administration to begin in subtle ways to pressure Israel and take an ever so slightly more balanced role in the Mideast. One key indicator the GPB is watching is whether President Obama will appoint former Sen. George Mitchell to the post of Middle East envoy. Senator Mitchell is considered to be one who, while maintaining the US relationship with Israel, would also pressure Israel incrementally for new solutions. That said, the GPB will be looking very very hard toward the form of a new solution from the Obama Administration.
* Calming Afghanistan. During the campaign, candidate Obama stated he wanted to effect an "Afghanistan surge"...more troops to calm the nation and more money to reconstruct Afghanistan. Yet, most analysts question whether more US troops are the answer. A number of NATO members believe Afghanistan was handled so badly that it is essentially lost. They are trying to reduce their troop levels. While there are differences between the Soviet experience and strategy and the current US strategy, many point to the fact that the USSR couldn't subdue Afghanistan with a considerably larger force. The measure of whether the Obama Administration will make progress in Afghanistan will be viewed by the type of strategy they develop (e.g., one that involves political integration, assistance from Iran and other new tactics) and the progress that strategy creates.
* Defeating al-Qaeda. The lack of any attempt to disrupt the Obama Inaugural despite its attractiveness and relative ease as a target has suggested that President Bush is correct that constant US military pressure has weakened and isolated al-Qaeda. Yet, the Bush strategy is unsustainable in terms of cost. While denying al-Qaeda safe haven in the border areas of Pakistan (without destabilizing Pakistan) is an important goal, the ultimate success of the Obama fight against terrorism will depend on whether the new national security team can find new approaches sustainable over the long term that don't destabilize countries or regions..
* Independence from oil. Obama has set as a high priority weaning the US from oil...not just foreign oil, but oil in general. This goal has the potential for the greatest foreign policy benefit of anything since the US entered WWII. But it won't be easy...though given that energy independence is as much a question of infrastructure development (e.g, natural gas, electric distribution) as technology, it may be more possible at this time of economic stimulus than at any time in history. We'll be watching closely.
* A new approach to Cuba. This is actually part of an apparent goal to change how we deal with "enemies" such as Venezuela and Iran. However, Cuba, 90 miles off the Florida shore, is perhaps most important. While candidate Obama proposed only incremental steps, the opening of Cuba could be the most important symbolic move of the past two decades and could create opportunities with developing nations across the globe. This in turn would lead to a significant strengthening of the US against its rivals, Russia and China, for the (in many cases natural resource-rich) non-alligned nations.
* Russia and China? We lump these together though the strategies for dealing with either would be very different. We have not yet seen much evidence of a new strategy for dealing with these countries. We're anxiously awaiting clues.
* Nuclear non-proliferation. This is a key challenge but it can only be achieved by the "smart power." It appears the Obama Administration as a top priority will restate US adherence to critical treaties that the Bush Administration decided to ignore. Yet, much more needs to be known about new initiatives to convince rogue nations such as North Korea to abandon hopes of becoming nuclear powers.

Obviously, we will identify more goals and greater detail to these goals as this Administration progresses. We also would ask our readers to identify what you believe the goals of the Obama Administration appear to be. Remember, that's how we'll measure progress of the new President.

Note that GPB staff has decided to leave the US icon where it is (which is significantly in negative territory) rather than zero it out. President Obama has inherited a US foreign policy in complete disarray and he'll have to dig out the country from its negative position. We as all Americans and citizens of the world hope he will...and sooner rather than later.

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