Obama confronts thorny security issues immediately

 

Even before his election victory is officially certified, President Obama faces a gantlet of foreign policy challenges that will test his administration while it seeks to focus attention on the economy and a looming budget showdown with Congress.

Administration officials and policy analysts say Obama will almost certainly be compelled to act before Inauguration Day to deal with crises flaring across the Middle East, from Syria's 20-month-old civil war to the escalating nuclear standoff with Iran.

At the same time, the administration must navigate a dangerous, logistically complex military drawdown in Afghanistan while dealing with a succession of political and financial storms sweeping Europe, Africa and Asia.

Obama faces an uncertain landscape in the Middle East, where the United States is seeking to reinvent its relationships with Arab stalwart Egypt and revolutionary protege Libya, even as the upheaval of the Arab Spring revolutions continues. At the same time, the White House confronts a newly assertive, nuclear-armed North Korea and increasingly suspicious, nationalistic governments in Moscow and Beijing.

The stew of foreign policy problems facing the second Obama administration is as vexing as any faced by a White House in recent memory — a mix of "migraine headaches and root canals," said Aaron David Miller, a State Department adviser to Democratic and Republican administrations. For the president, he said, there are few easy choices, recognizable opportunities or even obvious legacy issues.

"All of this is occurring against the backdrop of real concerns about the global economy and America's own debt bomb," said Miller, a vice president and Middle East policy scholar at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank. "And on top of it all is a U.S. public exhausted by costly wars and a diminished American street credibility around the world."

Obama faces particular urgency over his dealings with Syria, where the increasingly sectarian conflict has spread to neighboring countries and served as a magnet for radical Islamist fighters and ever-larger quantities of weapons.

Arab leaders have called on the White House to act quickly after the election to support rebels seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. Yet, despite periodic reports that the administration is rethinking its Syria strategy, prospects for a more muscular U.S. role appear uncertain. Senior White House officials say they remain convinced that it is a bad idea.

Obama has repeatedly rejected the possibility of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria. The Pentagon, while saying it has prepared a range of options, remains firmly opposed even to establishing a no-fly zone, which Defense experts say would require too much air power and risk unacceptable civilian casualties in Syria. NATO and other allies are similarly cool to the notion of a Libya-style military intervention.

Turkey and other Muslim-majority countries have pushed for stronger U.S. leadership in the loose coalition of countries trying to resolve the Syrian crisis. Yet none of Syria's neighbors has advocated foreign military intervention without a mandate from the United Nations Security Council.

The main U.S. effort on Syria is trying to help the rebels forge a cohesive, unified command structure that could become the foundation for a future, post-Assad government. The White House has refused to support the creation of a protected buffer zone inside Syria along the Turkish border, insisting instead that rebels defend territory they now hold in the northern part of the country.

But pressure is building on the administration to take firm action to prevent a jihadist-led government in Damascus after Assad falls.

"I believe President Obama in his second term will be more assertive, perhaps from the first day after the election, not waiting for inauguration, to increase the lethality and the amount of weaponry going to the opposition in Syria," said Robert Satloff, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In Iran, meanwhile, White House officials are scrambling to grasp what could be the last chance for a nuclear deal to stave off a military strike and possibly avert a new Middle East war. Despite a deepening economic crisis in Iran — triggered in part by international sanctions orchestrated by the United States and its allies — its leaders have not yet signaled that they are prepared to negotiate restrictions on the nuclear program.

Former policy advisers and Iran experts say Obama is inclined to push for a "grand bargain" with Iran between now and the spring of 2013. If the effort fails, the likelihood of a military strike — perhaps by Israel — will soar, the officials said. In the meantime, the administration seeks to ramp up the pressure through sanctions and covert action.

In Afghanistan, Obama faces a Dec. 31, 2014, deadline for the withdrawal of combat troops from the country. But it remains unclear whether Afghan forces will be prepared to assume responsibility for safeguarding the country by then, and the shape of future U.S.-Afghan relations is far from certain.

There has been virtually no movement for the past 10 months on nascent peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, and administration officials are pessimistic about a resumption of the talks they once hoped would lead to the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held since 2009 by Afghan militants in Pakistan. Although the Taliban have rejected direct talks with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the administration maintains modest hope that Karzai will step up his efforts in this direction.

- - -

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'