- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2008




With two wars, tumultuous global financial markets, and numerous potential domestic and foreign challenges, the new administration must quickly make thousands of plum appointments. And even though President Bush created the Presidential Transition Coordinating Council last month to help aid the transition, navigating Washington bureaucracy is no piece of cake. The mood of the nation after the election could make things either easy or difficult, and whichever way it goes, the new president will face huge challenges.

On the economic front, a 20-nation summit will convene in less than two weeks in Washington in an effort to forestall a full-fledged global recession. But as of now, it seems that the participants are coming to the table with vastly different expectations. While European leaders — from French President Nicholas Sarkozy to German Chancellor Angela Merkel — are urging quick action, Mr. Bush is inclined to take smaller steps. The United States would greatly benefit from the attendance of the president-elect, giving him an opportunity to become directly involved. Those other world leaders would find themselves gravely disadvantaged if he is not engaged in the decision-making process, with no clue about America’s likely future course of action. In such vagueness, this summit has the potential to be a failure — and it could negatively impact the global markets.

On Iraq, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) remains in limbo. Whether the U.S. chooses to withdraw or downsize its forces in Iraq, it can’t leave them in a legal vacuum on the battlefield. Many argue that Iraq is stalling to buy time to make the deal with the incoming president. The Pentagon also alleges that Iran is trying to “undermine” and “derail” this agreement.

On Iran, no specific information has come to light to prove that Iran has had any direct impact on Iraqi decision making. But Tehran certainly has come into the picture. First and foremost, Iran’s nuclear program remains a vital concern to regional security. However, Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies has argued that until Iran has a nuclear weapon, it will not be interested in a “grand bargain” with the United States. Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution has said that if Obama is elected, Iran must make a quick “tactical” decision whether to accept or refuse to engage in direct talks with Washington. At a recent event at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Indyk argued that if Iran agrees to talk with the United States without preconditions, the United States will have to decide what to do if Iran does not prove it is ending its nuclear program.

On Russia, Washington and Moscow seem increasingly far apart, but the United States needs Russia’s cooperation to cope with energy issues, and to deal with Iran and the other issues of the region. The president-elect will have an opportunity to try new approaches with Russia in an attempt to diffuse the tension. Meanwhile, Washington will have to decide not only what it wants, but what its leverage is.

On Pakistan, the new president faces the challenge of dealing with a failed nuclear state. The terrorist hotbed of Pakistan’s tribal beltway has been a focus of concern for too long, but there is little agreement of how to deal with it. More, when an earthquake last week hit Balochistan — a tribal area — neither the Bush administration nor the presidential candidates said anything. “Much is said, both by the administration in Islamabad and the bosses in Washington, about winning the hearts and minds of local Pakistanis as the key to winning the war on terror,” wrote Rafia Zakaria in Pakistan’s Daily Times. “This ‘hearts and minds’ truism, while a neat and nifty slogan, seems sadly forgotten at a time when it could reap the most rewards.”

There have been many such missed opportunities — and every day brings more. Today, Americans will focus more on their own lives and their own circumstances rather than on those of people around the world — which is only natural. But as with every presidential election, their decisions will play a role in shaping the lives of people around the world. While the challenges ahead are not easy, this election marks a new beginning for the United States. One can only hope for the best for all of us.

Tulin Daloglu is a freelance writer.

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