- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2009

As President Obama begins his fourth week in the White House, foreign rivals and erstwhile allies already have begun to challenge U.S. interests abroad.

On Friday, Pakistan - the recipient of billions of dollars in U.S. aid - released from house arrest Abdul Qadeer Khan, the nuclear scientist who for two decades ran a black market that sold nuclear-weapons technology to U.S. adversaries including Iran and Libya.

Two days earlier, Kyrgyzstan announced that it would not renew a U.S. lease at the Manas air base, a critical transshipment point in the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, the Russians - who offered Kyrgyzstan $2 billion in cash and loans to oust the Americans - said that they intend to establish a new base in a breakaway enclave of Georgia, the country Moscow invaded over the summer in response to a Georgian assault on another enclave.

If this were not enough, Iran last week launched a crude satellite into space, suggesting that the Islamic regime has mastered at least some of the technology for multistage, long-range missiles.

Finally, Yemen on Sunday announced that it had released 170 men arrested on suspicion of having ties to al Qaeda. Just two weeks earlier, the terrorist group called Yemen its base for the entire Arabian Peninsula.

While none of these events amounts to the foreign policy crisis that Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said during the campaign would test the new president in his opening months, Mr. Obama’s reaction will shape foreign perceptions of the new U.S. leader’s mettle.

“Definitely everyone wants to test a new president,” said Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger fellow for foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It’s like when the substitute teacher walks into the classroom. Everybody is seeing how the administration will respond.”

Michael Ledeen, a conservative foreign policy specialist at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, agreed that foreign leaders are watching Mr. Obama, on domestic as well as foreign issues.

“Everybody wants to figure him out. What is he? Who is he? It’s obviously very important,” Mr. Ledeen said.

A White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said the new White House expected to be tested.

“The president understands we have 200,000 troops in the field every day who are being tested - and who are meeting those tests,” he said. “From Day One, he recognized he and his team needed to hit the ground running, because we owe it to those troops and their families and because keeping America safe is job one. That’s why he put together a strong national security team and has engaged these issues aggressively.”

The administration faces a number of serious challenges abroad, from drawing down troops in Iraq, stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan, and dealing with Iran’s advancing nuclear program.

A new national security team is in the process of major policy reviews for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran and the war in Iraq, and is looking at how to proceed in the wider confrontation with al Qaeda.

Thus far, responses to foreign provocations have come largely from the podium.

The State Department, for example, chastised Russia for announcing its intention to build a navy base and two army bases in Abkhazia - a breakaway republic that Moscow has recognized as independent.

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