Saturday, November 08, 2008

Global man of mystery

From The Australian, November 08, 2008, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor:

THE people of the world ...believe he is the one. In Obama's own words, millions of people see his election as the moment the planet began to heal, the oceans stopped rising.

Can he meet all their expectations? .... Well, can he?

...Having so few specific political commitments means anyone can project their kindest fantasies on to him. But the remorseless and terrible business of government is always about making hard choices....

...Obama's general approach to foreign policy is quite unclear. We have a good sense of what his rhetorical style will be: all uplift. Yes, we can! Change we can believe in! We are the ones we've been waiting for! Our stories are singular but our destiny is shared!

But, eventually, hard decisions will need to be made.

Obama has few solid commitments in foreign affairs and defence. A little like Kevin Rudd, he will engage in some important early symbolism, presumably closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay ...

On traditional geo-strategic issues, Obama became progressively more hawkish as the campaign wore on. In most things, his policies closely resemble those of the second Bush administration. On Iraq, he hopes to withdraw US troops over 16 months, but he will do so responsibly and in consultation with his commanders on the ground. That's as much wriggle room as anyone could want.

Famously, Obama threatened to bomb Pakistan if he had actionable intelligence about terrorists hiding out there and the Pakistani Government wouldn't or couldn't act. Some of Obama's statements suggested he would bomb whether these terrorists were al-Qa'ida or Taliban. At the same time, he would try to help the Pakistani Government bring economic development to the border areas with Afghanistan.

Now, surgical strikes across the Pakistani border against militants, combined with economic aid for the Pakistani Government: where have I heard that formulation these last few years? Oh, yes, I've got it: in the Bush White House.

In Afghanistan, Obama will increase the US troop commitment. In his positively neo-conservative foreign policy article in Foreign Affairs last July-August, Obama promised to increase the size of the US Army and marines and declared: "I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary."

Will any of this survive the financial crisis? Does Obama mean any of it?

...It is conceivable that some American enemies, such as Iran, may use Obama's election as the opportunity to strike a grand bargain with Washington.

It is equally possible that they may see weakness in Obama and try to exploit it, in effect testing the new president.

Obama's general preference will obviously be for diplomacy and multilateralism over military force and unilateralism, just as Bush's was in his second term.

But how Obama will govern remains essentially a mystery.

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