THE BLOG
12/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Troubled World Awaits President Obama

America's "time of madness," to use the words of novelist John Le Carré, is over.

After years of post-9/11 national psychosis, in which the Bush administration launched unprovoked foreign wars, used assassinations, torture, and kidnapping, curtailed the constitutional rights of Americans, sneered at environmentalism, whipped up Islamophobia, and made the US detested around the globe, the nation's long nightmare of fear, religious extremism and flirting with neo-fascism is finally at an end.

The battered Republican Party appears to be marching off to richly-deserved irrelevance in the backwoods of rural America. A forward-looking Democratic Party that represents America's increasingly mixed racial future is triumphant.

President-elect Barack Obama, formerly the "skinny little kid from Hawaii with the funny name," has shown the world that America, for all its many faults and problems, is indeed a nation of opportunity, justice, and human decency. Obama's victory does much to ease the national historical disgrace of slavery.

People around the planet are applauding America's re-engagement with the rest of the civilized world. The only nations lamenting Sen. John McCain's loss were Israel, Georgia and the Philippines.

But Obama's honeymoon will be brief. He faces the extraordinary challenge of dealing with a nation that has plunged into bankruptcy and exported financial crises around the globe due to a reckless orgy of borrowing and outright criminal fraud on Wall Street.

The new president-elect must also face a daunting number of challenges abroad that will weigh heavily on his first term. Yet his smashing electoral victory, and the Democrat's command of both House and Senate, provides Obama with a unique opportunity to resolve some of the nation's most vexing and persistent foreign policy problems.

The first key step is to demilitarize U.S. foreign policy by stopping the Pentagon and CIA from making policy and return its formulation and conduct to the professionals at the State Department.

Here some suggestions for the new president regarding the following nations:

Russia: President Dimitri Medvedev lost no time in greeting Obama's victory with growls of anger over Georgia and Ukraine, and a dramatic announcement Moscow was deploying short-ranged "Iskander" missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave to counter the Bush administration's deployment of an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

America's most important national security challenge is not Osama bin Laden or Iraq, but how to deal with Russia which has thousands of nuclear warheads targeted at the U.S. President George W. Bush and his mentor Dick Cheney went out of their way to antagonize, provoke, and humiliate Russia with their daft anti-missile plan and their backing of Georgia's incredibly foolish attack on South Ossetia, a provocation Moscow believed was designed to boost the electoral chances of "I know how to win wars" John McCain.

Obama should move swiftly to terminate the anti-missile program, which is supposedly designed against Iranian nuclear-armed missiles which do not even exist, but enraged Russia. Georgia must be told to settle down and stop provoking Russia before it ignites an East-West clash. One hopes Obama might renew President Dwight Eisenhower's call for international nuclear disarmament.

Ukraine is the next looming crisis and an explosive one. Washington and Moscow have got to work out an agreement over Ukraine that guarantees its continued independence but avoids it becoming a NATO spear pointed at Russia's heart. NATO's eastward move to Russia's borders was a strategic and historic mistake that has provoked anti-western forces in Russia and stoked its traditional xenophobia. The US and its allies should agree to a pullback of NATO forces in exchange for ironclad guarantees from Moscow that the independence of the ex-satellites will be respected.

China: Dealing with China's emergence as a rival to America will be the second most important US foreign policy issue after keeping normal relations with Russia. The Republican Party idea of setting up China as a potential foe is wrong-headed. Washington must accept a diminution of US influence in eastern Asia in exchange for a peaceful emergence of China as the regional superpower. There are no basic strategic antagonisms between the two nations.

Iraq: Obama should accelerate his pledge to remove US troops -- all of them -- from Iraq and let the Arab League assume security responsibility for that strife-torn nation. Bush's attempt to conquer and plunder Iraq's oil was worthy of Mussolini. Bankrupt Washington can no longer afford a $10 billion monthly occupation of Iraq. Hopefully, Obama will put an end to Bush-Cheney-neocon dreams of an American Mideast Raj.

Iraq/Palestine: This conflict lies at the heart of much of the anti-Western violence coming from the Muslim world. The men who crashed airliners into New York and Washington on 9/11 made it clear their primary motivation was to revenge the suffering of 5.5 million Palestinians. Obama now has an opportunity to end the Bush-Cheney crusade against the Muslim world and sharply reduce what we call terrorism.

The Bush administration became almost an extension of Israel's right wing parties who reject the land for meaningful peace deal with Palestinians and are determined to hold on to the West Bank, or even further enlarge Israel. Obama could throw his weight behind Israel's center and left parties who support a genuine land for peace deal. Such an agreement would go far to ending the Muslim world's hostility to the US and attacks on the West.

Equally important, the new president could also announce the US will gradually cease supporting dictatorial rulers across the Muslim world -- which this writer holds is the primary cause of what we call "terrorism" -- and really begin cultivating democracy in the region.

But Obama has already come under intense pressure from the US Israel lobby, which speaks for Israel's hard line right wing, and was forced to support its goals at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention. The appointment of Rep. Rahm Emmanuel as the president's chief of staff, who has very close links to Israel and whose father was a member of Israel's independence-era extremist Irgun movement, is making those hoping for a change of US Mideast policy nervous.

There are tantalizing hints of more openness in Israel to a real peace deal. But none will happen without direct US intervention and pressure. Failing this, and continued American support for dictatorships in the region, the conflict with the Muslim world will continue to bedevil US foreign policy and national security.

Afghanistan: Obama has failed to understand the deep tribal and historical complexities of the struggle in Afghanistan, where the U.S. Air war planes just massacred a wedding party of 33 civilians. He has vowed to send 15,000 more troops and even attack inside Pakistan. Obama should listen to the Secretary General of NATO and senior officers who say no military solution to the conflict is possible. The way out of the Afghan quagmire is through negotiations that include Taliban and its allies. Ending this unnecessary war is urgent. The longer it continues, the greater the threat that nuclear-armed Pakistan will explode and destabilize the entire region.

Iran and North Korea: Obama's calls for direct talks with these two problem nations was wise and appropriate. Both are eagerly awaiting a show of respect and moderation from the United States, and assurances it will not attack them. Their limited nuclear ambitions are primarily for self-defense.

Europe: All Europe is joyous over Obama's victory and eagerly expecting improved relations. It is time for Washington to start treating the EU as an equal and seeking its counsel. The US has a lot to learn from the EU, which is far ahead of America in human rights, environmental and consumer protection, transportation, and effective governance.

An Obama administration should be able to improve problematic relations with Latin America and hopefully end the shameful blockade of Cuba. Black Africa is now in America's camp. India, which is developing ICBM's and nuclear submarines, will be a future challenge to US world power. But that is down the road.

Many of these hopes for more sensible, mature US foreign policy may turn to ashes as Washington's mighty special interests begin to squeeze Obama and the Democrats. Do not under-estimate the power of the military-industrial-petroleum complex, the Israel lobby, big pharma, and the farm lobby, to name a few. President Obama must tackle all these major issues while wrestling with the financial crisis of 08.

The new president, the repository of the hopes of a majority of Americans and people around the globe, must move swiftly and decisively before the weight of politics and powerful interests weighs him down with chains. But not since the ebullient days of new president, John F. Kennedy, has the world's heart been so open and filled with good feelings for the United States of America.

Subscribe to the Politics email.
How will Trump’s administration impact you?