retosobama.jpgIraq. Afghanistan. The Middle East. Terrorism. Energy. The economic crisis. Poverty. Understand why the United States will return to multilateralism in order to try to solve each of these global issues.

(From Madrid) THE NEW AMERICAN ADMINISTRATION’S first big commitment appears to be repositioning areas of interest and redefining the international power centers. The materialization of a victory in Iraq, or at least an acceptable stabilization of the conflict that permits the withdrawal of most of the American contingent from the country and the consolidation of an Iraqi government capable of controlling the violence; reducing the risk of insurrection; and developing a democratic, or at least plural, political system to direct the reconstruction of the state, are the Democratic candidate’s stated objectives in the country.

Although during the campaign there have been some differences between John McCain, more firm in his arguments in favor of obtaining a necessary victory in Iraq, and Barack Obama, more in favor of speeding up the end of the conflict so as to not waste the budget and erode the image of the United States in the eyes of the world, every analyst agrees that the withdrawal from Iraq will not occur immediately. Instead, they think that the stabilization of the situation will involve a continuation of the Gates strategy and an increase in diplomatic activity in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Middle Eastern countries, without it in any way meaning giving up even one millimeter of political support for Israel.


Obama insists, although he has not defined it in specific terms, that the war on terror must move to Afghanistan. This would have a significant impact on the policy that the United States has with its alliances, which would be affected because it would need European and multilateral support to address the conflict on Afghan soil, and would also require some innovative approaches to the search for Central Asian allies. The possibility of bringing the country’s positions closer to those of the Iranian government has been put on the table, in order to prevent the emergence of radical Sunnism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But this would have to pass in spite of an Israeli diplomatic veto, and Obama has not yet explained how to get around this problem.

Another geopolitical option would be involving other great powers in the region: India, Russia and China. In order to do this, the new president would have to establish a policy of holding major conferences not only to develop specific resolutions for the violence in the country, but also to strategically redefine the role of Central Asia in the global scene as an energy transportation zone and a region involved in the fight against drug trafficking and nuclear proliferation.


In any case, “However, Europe cannot assume the role of privileged partner if it means that the United States has to turn its back on other global powers with whom, in view of the global situation, it is not possible to provoke any serious disagreements” it is obvious that the essential return to multilateralism that this repositioning of regional interests will cause not only has to do with the construction of new alliances around geopolitical and economic problems, but above all involves the strengthening and revitalization of the international organizations and alliances already in place. In this sense, it is appealing to us that the return to a strategic understanding with Europe in the political (transatlantic agenda), economic (reorganization of the international financial system) and security (NATO) spheres is the Obama administration’s first objective, something that the new president already stated during his trip to Europe during the election campaign.

However, Europe cannot assume the role of privileged partner if it means that the United States has to turn its back on other global powers with whom, in view of the global situation, it is not possible to provoke any serious disagreements. China, Russia and Brazil represent three emerging powers, in three different areas, with leadership ability and an alternative – or at least discrepant – ideology to the international behavior patterns of recent years.
Their commercial, military, demographic or energy power has turned them into key pieces of the global stability management puzzle, although their development as global powers still falls short in areas such as the environment, politics or public diplomacy itself. Mexico, Japan, and India are in some ways the flip side of the same coin, as their proximity to U.S. policy can be more easily implemented through processes of bilateral cooperation, or even through integration, as is the case of Mexico and NAFTA, whose momentum depends largely on the credibility of Obama in his support for multilateralism.


The world of the big powers, which countries such as Iran, “The measures to be implemented will urgently require domestic and foreign support, and will inevitably bring about labor and economic imbalances on the global level” Venezuela, Pakistan and other Asian nations like Indonesia and South Korea want to be a part of, cannot once again degenerate into chaos in international relations. But with this premise ahead, the shared diplomatic management of global affairs – which Barack Obama has insisted on during his campaign – cannot be regarded as a mere voluntary expression of the candidate, but rather as a fundamental principle of facing the global and conflictive reality in the upcoming years. Furthermore, we must not forget that outside of this great multilateral order under construction, which we were able to visualize for the first time during the G20 summit in Washington, there are numerous countries and minorities that remain dependent on the Obama administration’s decisions: Israel and Palestine, without needing to go any further; Cuba, Colombia and some other Latin American governments waiting for concrete changes and political actions; Africa as a region and as a conflict area. And this is just to name a few areas in which there are still no clear forecasts regarding the direction that the new doctrine of U.S. foreign policy will take.

Similarly, the Democratic cycle now beginning will require the establishment or redefinition of an agenda for global problems, which has already been talked about during the election campaign and in the weeks of administration transition, but that, starting during the first quarter of 2009, must be structured with concrete projects and decisions. Among all of the global problems, the management of the global economic crisis, which has hit the United States particularly hard, is going to be the top priority in American foreign policy.

Organizing a new international financial system; bringing firms and investments back home to revitalize the domestic economy without creating negative impacts among partners; not hindering commercial activity, but instead promoting it; reconfiguring the regulatory agencies and monetary institutions with international agreements… these are a set of measures, still not established in some cases, that will urgently require domestic and foreign support, and that will inevitably bring about labor and economic imbalances on the global level.


“The depletion of traditional energy sources is a fact in a more commercially active world with a steady increase in energy consumption in the medium and long term” The success in the management of this period of crisis, in contrast to the recent growth periods of the past, could be the element that catapults Obama to the top during his first few months in office or, on the contrary, questions his ability to lead and his strength in the principles outlined in his campaign. But the economic crisis will not be the president’s only global challenge. Policies regarding the international protection of the environment, the fight against climate change and as such the modification of energy patterns appear to be one of the major themes of the United States’ foreign action in the upcoming years.

In the first place, this is due to the environmental awareness present in American society, which has helped shape the new Democratic majority, which will not tolerate any political fraud regarding these initiatives. Also, because both Obama and McCain, and therefore the majority of their voters, have repeatedly stated that dependence on oil and the abuse of this energy is harmful to American politics, both nationally and internationally. The dependency, which also happens to be centered in the Middle East, has for decades been causing and feeding conflicts that, although they have other roots, are brought about by the United States’ energy expectations.

Furthermore, because the depletion of traditional energy sources is a fact in a more commercially active world with a steady increase in energy consumption in the medium and long term. Aside from being a global problem, climate change could act as a trigger to revise agreements and policies, as Obama has anticipated in the past few months.


Lastly, the fight against international terrorism cannot be disassociated from the administration’s foreign policy, neither during the first few months, when it will be confronted with open wars caused by the issue, nor in the medium term, because terrorist activity will not only not be reduced, but the instability created by terrorist groups could find new destinations and objectives if the proliferation of international arms-trafficking networks continues. And we are dealing with networks to which the drug trafficking mafias operating in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Mexico – just to name three fronts – also have access.

It is difficult to evaluate where we stand on the international fight against poverty and endemic diseases in a world as complex as the current one. Although the sensitivity of President Obama seems to indicate that the administration will put these policies on its agenda, it is equally clear that these priorities may delay measures that are urgent for large segments of the population in poor and developing countries.