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President-elect Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates appear to differ on the nuclear weapons issue – realistically if countries like Iran and even Pakistan have nuclear weapons – it will be almost impossible for the US to relinquish its nuclear arsenal – for the time being.
President Bush, who not so long ago argued that it was defeatist to insist upon a timetable for a withdrawal of American military forces from Iraq, now tentatively has negotiated — drum roll, please — a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The status of forces agreement reached recently between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki calls for pulling American forces out of Iraqi cities by the end of next June and the departure of all U.S. military units by the end of 2011.
Moreover, the President agreed to other Iraqi demands he once dismissed: no permanent U.S. bases in Iraq; a ban on use of Iraqi territory to attack neighbors, including Iran and Syria; and more Iraqi control over U.S. military operations and movements.
Of course, nothing in Iraq is simple or certain. The Iraqi parliament must approve the deal in a vote scheduled for this week. Any plan would be carried out on the U.S. end not by Mr. Bush but by Barack Obama, who has favored a faster pullout. Shiite cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr demands the immediate ouster of the American “invader,” and some Sunni and Kurdish leaders fear being left at the mercy of Mr. al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government.
Still, in the byzantine world of Iraqi politics, such wrangling may have less to do with how to deal now with the Americans than with how various factions are positioning themselves for a post-American future.
That is a consideration that Mr. Obama should be weighing as well.
It is going to be tempting for the incoming president — particularly considering the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the war’s cost of more than $10 billion per month — to speed up the American withdrawal.
And perhaps that will be possible. We hope so. At the same time, if Mr. al-Maliki is able to win approval of the pact, American involvement is going to be needed to prod the Iraqis toward political consensus and real sharing of oil revenues, accelerate training of Iraqi security forces and encourage responsible Middle Eastern countries to foster stability in Iraq.
Leaving Iraq as quickly as feasible is desirable. Doing everything possible to prevent a need ever to return is imperative.
Iran is forging ahead with its nuclear programme, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog reported on Wednesday, deepening the dilemma facing US president-elect Barack Obama over his campaign promise to engage with Tehran.
The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency reveals that Iran is rapidly increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium, which could be rendered into weapons-grade material should Tehran decide to develop a nuclear device.
The agency says that, as of this month, Tehran had amassed 630kg of low enriched uranium hexafluoride, up from 480kg in late August. Analysts say Iran is enriching uranium at such a pace that, by early next year, it could reach break-out capacity – one step away from producing enough fissile material for a crude nuclear bomb.
“They are moving forward, they are not making diplomatic overtures, they are accumulating low enriched uranium,” said Cliff Kupchan, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, a risk consultancy in Washington. “These guys are committed to their nuclear programme: if we didn’t know that, they just told us again.”
The IAEA report also says there has been a breakdown of communication between the agency and Iran over alleged research on an atomic weapon. “The Iranians are making good progress on enrichment but there is absolute stone-walling on past military activities,” said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International institute for Strategic Studies. “It’s very disappointing.”
Reaed it all
American elections are a powerful drug: they bring delusions of omnipotence. All that talk of “change” and “hope” brings demands for swift action: “Do it now,” “first six months,” “hundred days.” The economic crisis may indeed demand speed, but in foreign policy the reality is that, on the afternoon of Jan. 20, President Obama will face the same challenges that President Bush did that morning. And none presents much opportunity for bold new initiatives.
That’s fortunate. Incoming presidents making big decisions in a hurry is a surefire recipe for error. Think JFK and the Bay of Pigs. More recently, George W. Bush’s reflexive ditching of the Clinton administration’s strategy on North Korea was a misstep it has taken years to retrieve.
The foreign-policy and national-security inbox shows that, even on pressing issues, Obama has the luxury of time. A quick overview:
Iraq. Obama has pledged to withdraw U.S. troops. But that’s already getting under way. At issue still: the pace of the drawdown, a date for final disengagement and the number of U.S. troops who should then remain as last-ditch guarantors of a democratic government in Baghdad. No Iraqi politician is going to be able to engage seriously on those topics until after their own elections next fall.
In conversations and e-mail exchanges with SPIEGEL ONLINE, European leaders and thinkers express their wishes for US President-elect Barack Obama. Yes, they want the US to join the Kyoto successor. And, yes, they want to see Guantanamo close. But many also know that theirs is a view from Mars.
Part 1: What Europe Wants from Obama
Part 2: ‘We Need the US as a Strong Partner’
Part 3: ‘On Iran, Precious Time Has Been Lost’
Part 4: ‘We Need a Washington Less Ideological in Dealing with Russia and China’
Part 5: ‘The Time Has Come to Kick-Start Talks with Tehran’
Part 6: ‘Some Disappointment Is Inevitable’
Part 7: ‘By Voting for Obama, Americans Are not Voting to Become an EU Country’
Part 8: ‘Please Don’t Bomb Iran’
Part 9: ‘A Measure of Moral Leadership Would Be to Join the ICC’
Part 10: ‘Obama — Something that Is Still Impossible to Achieve in many European Countries’
Margot Wallström of Sweden is the vice-president of the European Commission, the European Union’s executive.
- On Tuesday the American people cast their votes electing a new President of the United States. I believe we are entering into a new era of trans-Atlantic relations.
- In these times of extreme financial instability, it is more important than ever to strengthen trans-Atlantic relations and work together to solve global problems. Europe and the US share the same goals and values. We both want a peaceful, prosperous and stable world, where democracy is the norm, the rule of law prevails and human rights are respected.
- Even more importantly, the biggest concerns facing us today are of a global nature. The financial crisis, climate change, security, the fight against poverty, hunger and disease in the developing world are all challenges that neither Europe nor the US can take on single-handed.
Slavenka Drakulic, a native of Croatia, is the best-selling author of “Cafe Europa.”
- A View from Mars: I am afraid that we Europeans tend to attribute too much personal power to the president of the United States. We might as well be Martians for all that we demand of the new president. We would like him (especially if it is our favorite Barack Obama) to: stop the war in Iraq, divert funding from the military industrial complex and use it to improve the lives of the poor, introduce national health insurance, sit down with Putin and discuss how best to bring peace to the world, persuade China and India to restrict dangerous gas emissions, get rid of the Taliban in Afghanistan, make a deal with Iran, sign the Kyoto Protocol, catch Osama bin Laden and, finally, bring peace to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Of course, all of this should be accomplished in close collaboration with European governments — and all in the first year, possibly in the first days of his presidency.
Robert Badinter, 80, is a French senator and member of the foreign affairs and defense committees who, as justice minister under President Mitterrand, achieved the abolition of the death penalty.
My expectation of the new president is that he:
- 1. Withdraw US forces from Iraq;2. Close the prison at Guantanamo and give all inmates the rights to which they are entitled under US law;
3. Through his emphatic support he must achieve a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians;
4. Take an energetic approach to the fight against climate change and ratify the Kyoto Protocol;
5. Support the International Criminal Court;
6. Appoint independent and progressive judges to the US Supreme Court.
Hans Blix was head of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997 following a stint as foreign minister of Sweden. In the three years leading up to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, he was in charge of searching for weapons of mass destruction in the country.
- The global financial system has been rocked by the recent crisis and Mr. Obama will have to bring about early discussions about a broader agenda and broader participation in the institutions for international financial cooperation like the IMF and the G-8. During a global recession he will have to resist protectionist pressures from important groups who supported him.
- Obama should be able to use the strong public opinion in the US to make the country help frame drastic global policies against dangerous climate change and environmental destruction. Technological innovation should be promoted, like fuel cells for cars. Energy must be generated more efficiently and used less wastefully. Obama should stimulate the use of effective renewable sources and overcome any hesitation against a rapid expansion of nuclear power.
- In international affairs, Obama will have to steer away from the arrogant unilateralism of the Bush years and explain to the public that the interdependence of states and peoples is fast accelerating. In this modern world a constructive use of multilateral institutions like the UN is a necessity. They are indispensable mechanisms where reconciliation of interests can take place and joint action can be organized.
- Obama was ridiculed by his opponents for saying that he was ready to talk with adversaries. He was right and his administration should act on this principle. To talk is not to concede. The Bush administration has had a tendency to talk to others rather than with others. The worst example has been the demand that Iran must suspend its program for the enrichment of uranium before the US will sit down for direct discussions.
- When it comes to US withdrawal from Iraq, Obama should take the stance that no US troops should stay longer than the host government wishes. The Bush administration, while intending to withdraw the bulk of US forces, has clearly wanted to retain some US troops in less visible bases. The aim seems to be more to protect US interests in Iraqi oil and to have springboards for possible actions against Iran than to protect Iraq.
- For Obama, Iraq was the “dumb” war and Afganistan — where 9/11 was planned — was the place where all resources should have been projected. He wants a surge in Afganistan but there is a risk that the opportunity for success has already been lost and that American and other foreign troops are now seen more as foreign than as liberators. To abandon the country to renewed medieval style rule is not a possible American policy, but reconciliation with and involvement by parts of the Taliban might be a possibility. Iran and Russia could provide important help if the US can relax relations with these countries.
- On Iran, precious time has been lost during which the country has moved closer to a capability to make bomb grade material. Rather than humiliating Iran by declaring — as if to a child — that “Iran should behave itself,” the US should seek to identify and remove the incentives Iran may have to enrich uranium. To forego enrichment, Iran needs iron-clad assurances of supply of uranium fuel for its nuclear power program. Although Iran is no longer threatened by neighboring Iraq, it still feels threatened by the US. Washington should be ready to offer Iran security guarantees and diplomatic relations if the country abandons the option to make bomb grade material.
- Obama has rightly endorsed the call by a large number of foreign policy experts led by George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and William Perry for the US to take the initiative in nuclear disarmament. In 2007 the world spent $1.3 trillion (€1 trillion) on military expenses — about half of this expense came from the US budget. Taming the military-industrial complex is difficult in any country but starting a new era of international disarmament could help Mr. Obama to move huge sums from arms to health care, social welfare and education.
- Early US ratification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty would send a dramatic signal that an era of global disarmament has begun. Preventing non-proliferation will be less difficult in a world in which those states possessing nuclear weapon states renounce the license they have given themselves up till now.
Gert Weisskirchen, is the foreign policy spokesman for the Social Democrats in Germany’s federal parliament.
It is now vitally important that Barack Obama, as president, meets with, listens to and works closely together with his allies. And there is a mountain of things that need his attention.
For example, it is important that, from the beginning, Obama addresses the problems in the Middle East. I would hope that he will not wait until the very end of his presidency to move forward as both Clinton and Bush did before him. The time to act is now.
The second priority is the relationship between the West and Russia. We have new presidents now in the US and in Russia. I believe there is a chance that Obama and Dmitry Medvedev could find a basis for understanding. Moscow is looking for rapprochement; it saw that it lost the media war in Georgia. On a more substantive level, there is a problem called Saakashvili. I am convinced that Washington cannot continue to support such an unreliable politician in Tbilisi.
In Iran, it looks like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could very well lose the next election. We have to make it clear to the electorate in Iran that they too could author a defining moment much as the US electorate has. We need to be careful not to be pushy; there is a risk of creating a kind of false solidarity in Iran against the West. We can’t be confrontational. It is important we are clear about which lines cannot be crossed, but we have to show flexibility when it comes to the diplomatic instruments we use. We have to try and create a sense of optimism in Iran.
Thierry de Montbrial is director of the French Institute of International Relations and the author of “Twenty Years that Turned the World Upside Down — From Berlin to Beijing.”
- First, I would like to see a more congenial president, one who takes a friendlier approach to the rest of the world. Of course, we need a leader who, in light of the financial crisis, proves to be effective on economic issues and does not fall prey to the temptation of protectionism. Politically speaking, he must be a man who thinks beyond narrow American interests. More concretely: damage control must continue in Iraq, and there must be a coordinated approach with Pakistan and dialogue with Iran — without it, there can be no solution in the Middle East or in Afghanistan. Finally, the new man in Washington must show himself to be less ideological when dealing with Russia and China, particularly regarding issues such as the expansion of NATO and the missile shield. Planetary problems cannot be resolved through confrontation.
Pawel Swieboda is Founder and Director of demosEUROPA, a Polish think tank.
- The key task facing the new US President will be to share power and influence with other key players around the world in a manner which preserves American leadership. The decline of the US’s position in the world is a fact of life. However, statistics never tell the whole story. Washington continues to pull the strings on a range of issues from science and innovation to nuclear non-proliferation. The American civilization remains singularly attractive to other nations and peoples around the world.
- If the new president manages to build an inclusive international order in which key players feel comfortable, he will find it easier to exercise leadership. An early test of his strategy will come with the triple challenge of climate change, trade and new financial regulations. If he is to win on all three issues, he will have to both invite others to share in the benefits and to assume resonsibilities himself. On limiting greenhouse gas emissions, he will need to convince China of the merits of a low carbon economy. On trade, he will need to put an end to the schism between the developed and developing world which led to the failure of the Doha round. Finally, regarding new financial regulations, he will need to invite others to the table at the US- and EU-dominated IMF or its successor and ensure that it becomes a first responder against global turbulence.
Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister, is president of the Party of European Socialists in the European Parliament.
- Obama promises to renew American diplomacy, and to talk to foes as well as friends. This would make an enormous difference.
Wolfgang Ischinger is a former German Ambassador to the United States and is chairman of the Munich Security Conference.
- The most positive consequence of the election — and the most necessary one — is the opportunity for not just the United States, but for the entire West to regain the moral high ground in international affairs. Moral leadership is what we have most dramatically lost during the Bush years, and we must dramatically regain it.
- I do worry that many Germans and other Europeans have developed unrealistically high expectations for an Obama administration. In some of the panels I’ve been participating in recently, you get the sense that everyone expects a trans-Atlantic paradise will emerge with blue skies and constant sunshine. Some disappointment is inevitable.
Volker Perthes is the head of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.
- This election will bring change, regardless of the winner. Both candidates expressed their wish to cooperate with Europeans more than their predecessor has done and to abandon the “us vs. them” mentality that has characterized much of the Bush years.
- You do have the sense, more so in the media than in policy circles, that many here expect that Obama will rule as a “European president.” That may turn out to be wrong in several respects. By voting for Obama, Americans are not voting to become an EU country.
- Obama understands the changing world, and we can expect that he will increasingly rely on partners in Asia — not just partners in Europe. As expected, I think he will be more multilateral in his approach, but that doesn’t mean he’ll play below the weight of his country.
- The biggest challenge will be to align agendas on both sides of the Atlantic. This has been difficult in the past not only because European and American interests partly diverge, but also because of differing styles and traditions of behavior. Europeans, for instance, will never be as prepared to use military force as Americans are.
- There are other challenges, too: Americans and Europeans have to come to agreement about concrete goals in Afghanistan. Is it democracy? Or simply stability? Are we aiming for economic transformation, particularly in the Pashtun tribal areas? Each side will have to determine what it is willing to contribute.
- As far as Russia is concerned, it will be easier for Obama than it would have been for McCain to improve relations. Obama, after all, has not proposed kicking Russia out of the G-8 or forming a league of democracies aligned against it.
- As far as Israel-Palestine is concerned, the opposite might be true. Obama might face more domestic pressure on the issue than McCain would have, because many Americans still suspect Obama of being a krypto-Muslim or at least of being pro-Arab.
Ulrike Guérot heads the Berlin office of European Council on Foreign Relations.
- Barack Obama is a paradigm change for the US. He will need to change the way the US acts in the world. The US has lost its political and — now — it’s financial supremacy, and the country will need to adapt. And, perhaps of even more concern, the country has lost a great deal of sympathy and reputation as a result of the Bush administration — especially among younger generations abroad. Barack Obama conveys the policy of a “fresh start.”
- On foreign policy, this is likely to show in areas such as climate protection, where Europe is keen to see an engaged US; or with respect to Iraq, where a trans-Atlantic exit strategy is needed. Europe also expects a new tone and a new style from the US. But one should not expect a trans-Atlantic honeymoon. Obama will need Europe’s help and troops in Afghanistan — and Europe will be reluctant to deliver. The US and Europe also increasingly differ on how to deal and what to do with Russia — but they avoid talking about it openly. The US seems to have more ‘Cold War’ reflexes when it comes to Russia, where Europe wants and needs the strategic partnership.
- The US could regain its leadership if it shows readiness to engage fully in international law making, including human right policies at the UN. The world needs a US that engages clearly into multilateralism and that stops believing that it can better act alone only because it feels so strong.
- The biggest potential is that the US will again fall into a pattern of playing divide and conquer with Europe instead of promoting a strong and truly united Europe.
Diego Hidalgo is co-founder of the Spanish newspaper El Pais and a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
- I would first expect the new US president to convey to the world the strong message that the days of arrogant unilateralism are over. The next US president will face a megacrisis in the US and the world, with several interrelated threats which cannot be resolved at the nation-state level but call for concerted action and for a new and much stronger international governance architecture. The megacrisis that started in the financial sector threatens to depress the world economy, affects the whole world, and offers an opportunity for breakthrough in world governance. The first priority for the US president should be to initiate a “world constitutional period” during which he would develop coordinated responses to the four perhaps most urgent problems: resolve the financial and economic crisis, undertake the measures needed to face climate change, end extreme poverty and hunger throughout the world and end the main wars and conflicts.
Jeremy Hobbs is executive director of Oxfam International.
- The major crises facing the world, failure of global governance, collapsing financial markets, the threat of catastrophic climate change, continuing poverty and hunger, and worsening global security, cannot be addressed without positive and urgent leadership from the United States. Whoever is the new president must use his political capital to drive this international agenda, no matter how tough the domestic issues are.
- If ever there was a time to demonstrate how narrow national self interest should not be at the expense of the global good and developing countries, it is now, in the midst of the current global financial crisis.
Dr. Jean-Yves Haine is a senior researcher for trans-Atlantic and global security at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden.
- Electing Obama will in itself boost the US image abroad. Europe is looking with admiration and envy at Obama, a symbol of something that is still impossible to achieve in many European countries. After the election, symbolic but important gestures could be made: Guantanamo closure (easier said than done), the torture and rendition legacy, some amendment of the Patriot Act (but not much). Mostly, the tone and language will be crucial: to end the rhetoric of the war on terror, the us-versus-them mantra. … This will be necessary if the US wants to resume its role of honest broker in the Middle East (but the burden of past decisions will be particularly heavy).