In the in-tray: challenges for next four years

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The Iraqi elections, scheduled for January, are still on course, despite the chaos and unrest in the country where any Iraqi working for the interim government - considered to be part of the US-led occupation - is seen as fair game by suicide bombers. The holding of a successful election must be the main priority for the White House, but looks increasingly in doubt. The US offensive looming in Fallujah, aimed at pacifying the Sunni city to enable voting to take place, has split the Iraqi leadership. The UN, despite appeals from the caretaker government, has refused to send in more than 35 election officials to train Iraqi monitors.


The Bush administration has ridden roughshod over human rights since the 11 September attacks, tearing up the Geneva Conventions and building bridges with dictators, such as the President of Uzbekistan, in pursuit of geo-strategic goals. Mr Kerry pledged to restore the country's support for human rights, starting with Iraq. But the new President will struggle to convince doubters that America will once again blaze a trail on respect for human rights after the Abu Ghraib prison torture and the Guantanamo detentions. Photographs of the humiliation of Iraqi prisoners undermined the administration's war aims more effectively than the anti-war movement.


Videotapes from Osama bin Laden and his al-Qa'ida group have rekindled fears of another attack on the United States, although Bin Laden did not explicitly threaten another attack. Anti-American sentiment is running high and terror attacks on "soft" Western targets in Muslim countries, or by sleeper cells in the West, are unlikely to stop. There are also states such as Iran and North Korea which, it is feared, are developing nuclear weapons. So far America and European states have failed to stop these programmes, and new initiatives are needed. Neither country is afraid of being referred to the UN Security Council, and the military option is unattractive.


Never mind the Kyoto protocol, which will only have the tiniest effect in the anticipated catastrophic world temperature rise in the coming century. Saving the planet is the most urgent matter that should be at the top of the President's in-tray. The signs of warming can no longer be denied. Tony Blair has promised to make climate-change initiatives the policy centre-piece of Britain's chairmanship next year of the Group of Eight most powerful industrialised states. But the leader of America, which is the biggest polluter of the planet, has a responsibility to come up with concrete proposals that will end the isolation of the Bush administration, which tore up the Kyoto treaty.


A burgeoning budget deficit, rising oil prices and a growing bill for social security and health care head the list of economic issues confronting the President. Both candidates promised to cut the record $422bn (£230bn) deficit in half, but it remains to be seen how it will be done. Tax is another key area. Mr Bush reduced federal funds by billions of dollars through tax breaks for middle-income and wealthy Americans. The White House will be under pressure to create more jobs and persuade employers not to outsource labour to low-cost countries such as India. A stronger dollar meanwhile seems unlikely, given low interest rates, uncertain growth and a wide trade deficit.


From the refugee camps in Sudan's troubled Darfur region to the Aids clinics in Johannesburg, the impact of the US election will be felt across the continent. America has declared the Darfur humanitarian disaster to be genocide and the President should force the Khartoum government to rein in the marauding Arab militias. The devastating economic and social impact of Aids is combining with war, corruption and erratic weather patterns to cripple the ability of sub-Saharan Africa to recover from famine. With life expectancy at 30 years for an African male in several countries, the continent needs low-priced drugs and aid with no strings attached.