Although the failing economy is likely to be the top issue facing the Obama Administration, there are many foreign policy challenges that will demand significant amounts of attention and fortitude. From Iran to India-Pakistan to Iraq to Russia to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis (which ignited again over the weekend), there is no shortage of serious, volatile hotspots that pose significant threats to U.S. interests and the safety of the world’s citizens.
Chief among Obama’s goals is to not only restore America’s standing, but to convince the world that fighting extremism is in everyone’s interests. This is not an easy task, and it will require more candor that we have seen from an American president in a long time. Obama will need it to overcome feelings of nationalism, shame, inferiority, and other counterproductive emotions, all of which can cloud the judgment of other nations in their dealings with the United States (separate and apart from their legitimate grievances).
Here are some messages I would like Obama to convey:
1. To the Iraqis: Even though Saddam was a brutal dictator, I opposed the war because I knew the aftermath would be disastrous and that America was unprepared for nation-building. I thought there were better ways to contain and weaken Saddam, ways that wouldn’t have been so damaging to the Iraqi people. But we can’t go back in time, and the democracy that is burgeoning in Iraq must be nourished and sustained. As promised, I am going to draw down U.S. forces and let you govern your own country; at the same time, we will be there to support you against the forces resisting democratic change. There is nothing that dictators around the Middle East fear more than to see an emerging Arab civil society full of hope and prosperity.
2. To the Iranians: America’s involvement in Iranian affairs has not always been honorable. More than 50 years ago we opposed your democratically elected government; we also supported the Shah too strongly, and turned a blind eye to his oppression. But it is a new day. America wants good relations with Iran and an end to Iranian isolation from the world community. On the question of nuclear weapons, we cannot compromise; your country cannot be allowed to acquire these weapons because your leadership has made clear that it will use this power to threaten Israel and for expansionist goals. Iran has every right to develop nuclear power for peaceful uses, but not nuclear weapons. You may think that this represents a double standard, but we would not oppose an Iranian nuclear program if Iran was a free democratic society at peace with its neighbors.
3. To the Pakistanis: Let there be no doubt that Al Qaeda is as determined to strike against Pakistan as it is against the United States. The worldwide war against Al Qaeda is not one that Pakistan can afford to lose, because Al Qaeda intends to take down your society. There have been over 50 bombings in your country in the past few years, and the same terrorists that target America are the ones who killed your leader Benazir Bhutto. These extremists want to divide our two countries, but we cannot let them. We know that our assistance has been too tilted toward the military, and we’re going to quadruple our domestic aid to your country. Only when your people have opportunity will they turn away from extremism, and we will help to make this happen. We ask for your full cooperation in what is a struggle for order over chaos, hope over despair. Neither the U.S. nor India is the principal enemy; militant Islam is.
Next week: Messages to Israel, Palestine, Russia, and the EU.