Saturday, November 8, 2008
Obama's Priorities: US Economy, Foreign Policy and Pakistan Relations
Following his first post-election press conference Friday that featured his distinguished panel of economic advisers, President-elect Barack H. Obama spoke with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain.
Earlier on Thursday, the president-elect spoke to Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
In his Friday call to Asif Zardari that lasted over twenty minutes, Barack Obama assured Pakistani president that his administration would take Islamabad in confidence on all decisions regarding the war on terror, according to media reports.
Mr. Obama also said that he wants to establish better mutual relationship between the allies on the war on terror and settle differences in the aftermath of the US strikes in Pakistan.
Mr. Zardari is likely to meet Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden during his trip to the US next week to attend an inter-faith conference, a Pakistani official said in Islamabad.
"President-elect Obama's campaign slogan for 'change' has created a new set of global expectations about the US, which will be a major challenge for its new administration," said Pakistani minister Sherry Rehman.
Rehman added that vice president-elect Joe Biden is the architect of the Biden-Lugar legislation that commits development assistance of $15 billion for Pakistan over the next 10 years.
"This non-military aid signals a major shift in the focus of US assistance for Pakistan," the minister said, adding that this "reflects the newly elected US administration's support for our country's civilian democratic order, and an understanding of the necessity of building solid foundations for social and economic development of Pakistan".
During his first press conference as president-elect, Obama was asked about Iranian President Ahmadinejad's letter of congratulations addressed to him. Mr. Obama said Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons was "unacceptable" and he would "respond appropriately" to the Iranian leader's letter. On Nov 3, there was a report of bipartisan plans for aggressive action against Iran in the beltway debate in New York Times. Carl Giacomo wrote in the beltway opinion column that "it is a frightening notion, but it is not just the trigger-happy Bush administration discussing — if only theoretically — the possibility of military action to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program". Obama's mandate to negotiate with Iran in the face of the Israeli opposition is likely to be the tested soon. Given the past experience of other US presidents' inability to stand up to the growing power of the Israeli lobby in the US, I am not too sanguine that Obama will succeed. If Obama does succumb to the Jewish lobby's pressure, his entire agenda of fixing the ailing economy, defeating the Taleban and improving the US image in the world would be scuttled.
Early actions of the president-elect are seen as communicating his priorities to Americans and the world. His first appointment of Rahm Emanel as Chief of Staff, his first two sets of phone calls to world leaders on Thursday and Friday and his decision to meet with economic advisers and present them at his first news conference are all indications of the importance he attaches to each. However, Mr. Obama will still have to deal with the US Congress beholden to the various lobbyists who finance their campaigns. Let's hope he can succeed in his oft-repeated desire for "change" by reaching out to Americans directly via his open and transparent government initiative based on the use of online technology that helped him in his campaign. He will need to use all of his powerful communication skills and rhetorical gifts to maintain the support of the people and resist pressure from powerful lobbies and their congressional accomplices.
Here's the video clip of President-elect Obama's first press conference: