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Great expectations for Obama abroad

Team Obama is more pragmatic and less ideological than its predecessors, say diplomats and campaign advisers. Afghanistan will be a foreign-policy priority.

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Also high on the list: working with a nationalist Russia that could challenge Western ideas of progress; a China more connected with the US and open, but energy hungry and not transparent. (Beijing traditionally prefers Republicans.) Then, there are transnational terror cells; food and energy costs for already strapped nations in developing regions; and the Middle East.

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Two issues loom, at this point: an Israeli-Hamas cease-fire, and fears in Israel over a growing pile of low-level plutonium in Iran that can be reprocessed into weapons. But Afghanistan is the immediate matter. By some estimates, the Taliban control 75 percent of the country now. The next White House does not want Afghanistan to be "Obama's quagmire." Mishandled, the result could be a fractured Pakistan, a war between Pakistan and India, as well as damage to the NATO alliance and European relations. Obama's national security adviser, retired Gen. James Jones, will be a key player. In a World Security Network interview in February, he outlined a five-point plan, starting with stopping narcotics funding for the insurgency, called for a regional solution, and said that a military answer alone isn't adequate.

What specifics are known about the incoming Obama team strategy?

Actually, very little. After Nov. 4, Team Obama went into a near blackout on foreign-policy information. The team has moved faster on appointments than either Bill Clinton's or George W. Bush's. The plan is to hit the ground running, but the tight-lipped, disciplined approach so far has "amazed" one campaign adviser and "impressed" a well-connected foreign diplomat. "If you talk, you don't get a job," says one former high-level Clinton administration diplomat. By late January, when more of the foreign-policy team is announced, a clearer picture may emerge. Some press reports suggest splits already between realist and idealist camps – between a Defense chief Robert Gates and General Jones wing, and a Susan Rice-Tony Lake wing that wants more attention on Darfur and human rights. But some diplomats warn this is speculation.

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