Two wars, several on-going crises and enormous expectations. Exactly how Barack Obama is going to shape his foreign policy remains one of the big questions about his presidency. He has already said that Afghanistan is a main priority, a country that appeared to be overlooked during and after the march towards war in Iraq.
Jim Miller, a US foreign policy analyst, said: “The USA is going to have to change our strategy in Afghanistan. We’ve worked hard to bring in more allies, we are going to have to continue to do that -but I believe we are going to have to lower the bar or extend the timeline of when we expect change to happen”. By choosing Hillary Clinton as the head of American diplomacy, Obama seems to be breaking from President Bush’s politics of unilateralism. At her confirmation hearing before the foreign affairs committee of the Senate, Clinton used the term “smart power”. She said: “Our goal will be to do everything we can to pursue, through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power.” But with huge expectations in the US and around the world, and with complicated conflicts to deal with, how will Obama avoid disappointing people? Already, his silence during Israel’s offensive in Gaza provoked criticism and calls for urgent action. Shibley Telhami, a Middle East analyst, said: “President Obama may be the last President in the United States to have the option of dealing with it, and that makes it urgent, because if we don’t have a two-state solution there aren’t any good options on the table that are viable, that are credible, that could work, that people will accept.” But whatever the argument about the future shape of US foreign policy, commentators seem to agree on two things: Obama’s promise of a new beginning will be neither quick nor radical. Bart Kerreman, an expert in US politics, said: “The change would be in the first place in terms of style. It would be much more an approach open to patient diplomacy, but it doesn’t mean that the US is not going to defend or to continue to defend its own interests. The only difference is that it is going to perceive a number of its interests in a different way.” And while foreign policy is critical for many, American public opinion for now is squarely focused on the US economy – far from the war in Iraq and other conflict zones.