Obama's global to-do list
From China to Pakistan, major challenges loom.
On Nov. 15, President Bush will host a meeting of 20 world leaders to discuss the global financial crisis. Many will want to meet the president-elect. Even if meetings are not possible, they will want to scope out his views.
President-elect Obama should make early appointments of his secretary of the Treasury, his secretary of State, and his national security adviser.
Millions of Americans who did not vote for Obama will be waiting to see whether campaign promises of bipartisan concord will be fulfilled by the appointment of some moderate Republicans to his cabinet and other senior positions.
In capitals from Paris to Islamabad and from Moscow to Beijing, they are watching for changes in tone and substance in US foreign policy. As the US deals with new challenges, old allies – particularly with pro-American leaders in countries such as France and Germany – should be listened to and enlisted.
Though its economy is currently challenged, and its military drained, America will remain the world's only global superpower, its will and resources formidable. But other nations are emerging, set on sharing influence and prestige.
China is already an economic colossus. It is a significant exporter to, and banker for, the US. (Challenging the dominance of Boeing and Airbus, it just this week signed a contract to sell up to 25 regional jetliners to General Electric.) It is extending its trade tentacles into Africa and Latin America. It is sopping up oil wherever in the world it finds it to fuel its booming economy.
India does not yet match China's spectacular growth but it's not far behind. It has become a telemarketing and outsourcing center for many American corporations. By 2040, it is expected to boast the world's third-largest economy.
Brazil is a third significant player on the global scene. A massive bank merger this week created Latin America's biggest financial institution, hailed by The New York Times as likely "one of the few bright spots in the global banking firmament."
Russia, post-Soviet era, is not a superpower. (Its oil bonanza exaggerated its sense of self-aggrandizement, but the recent drop in oil prices sent it scampering to China for multibillion-dollar loans.) However, it is still a power, and its incursion into Georgia suggests a desire to restore the grandeur of empire.
In the case of nations such as China and Russia, Obama must encourage reform of their undemocratic ruling regimes. He must draw clear-cut lines defining US strategic interests, the breaching of which would have serious consequences. But he must assure that the US's intent is not to isolate, but to draw them into the community of nations.
The changing shape of the world dictates that an Obama administration must adopt more of the multilateral diplomacy that characterized the waning years of the Bush administration. That may have worked with North Korea. It might work with Iran. It is unlikely to do so without Russia's involvement and cooperation. Timing is critical. Iranian movement toward completion of a nuclear weapon may have hastened. There appears to be some tension in the Iranian leadership. The slump in the price of oil is adversely affecting an already strained economy.
Particular attention should be paid to three large Muslim, but non-Arab, countries: Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia. If democracy can survive and flourish there, that could be meaningful for the promise of democracy in the Arab world.
Pakistan has become pivotal in the campaign against Al Qaeda elements using the Pakistani-Afghan border region as a sanctuary. The Pakistani government is unhappy about US drone missile attacks on suspected Al Qaeda leaders on its territory. There are hints of US attempts to co-opt tribal elements that would fight Al Qaeda, rather as the US co-opted such elements in Iraq.
Though Pakistan must be the target of delicate diplomacy, Obama has taken a tough stand against Al Qaeda groups there. He has promised more vigorous US military involvement in Afghanistan, taken in tandem with the drawdown of US troops from Iraq, and expanding the Army by 65,000 and the Marines by 27,000 in the next decade.
America has just shown the world an extraordinary example of democracy at work. The world awaits what comes next.