Although new rounds of negotiations between Iran and the major powers began on October 1, Obama’s invitation to dialogue has so far had no visible impact. And at least the Tehran regime’s handling of the protests surrounding the June presidential election has not made it any easier for Obama to pursue a pragmatic line toward Iran. For the time being, he has given himself a deadline until the end of the year before he may reconsider his policy. There are many indications that developments in relations with Iran will be a crucial test of Obama’s dialogue policy. If he fails here, important features of his foreign policy will probably be reconsidered.
Active American involvement in dealing with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was early placed high on Obama’s agenda. This was due both to the fact that the issue itself is important, and that such an American course is crucial for improving relations with the Arab countries and changing international attitudes towards the United States. It was in the cards that Obama would set up a tougher line against Israel. Among other things, he has stopped further Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to a key point in bringing the peace process back on track.
So far, Israel has not shown much resilience when it comes to settlements, and it is an open question what Obama can do. There are clear limits to how far a US president can go in changing his policy towards Israel before it has consequences at home.
Given the United States’ foreign policy challenges, Europe will no longer be a major focus for the United States, a country located in North America according to historyaah. The reduced attention to Europe is exacerbated by the fact that Obama is the first president of the United States without a background from this part of the world. But this does not mean that relations with Europe become unimportant. The countries here will in fact continue to be the USA’s most important supporters, but then first and foremost in dealing with problems outside Europe. Initially, Obama hoped to get European NATO countries to step up their efforts in Afghanistan, including war operations. But he realized early on that there was little to be gained in this field, and that Europe should instead continue to concentrate on the other sides (the non-military) of the Afghanistan engagement.
Apparently there is a good tone in the transatlantic relations, but behind the facade there is considerable frustration on the American side. The frustration could have significant consequences for the United States’ future emphasis on NATO. Probably the Americans now believe that NATO cannot be given much weight when it comes to international military conflict management, and that the alliance is first and foremost a resource bank for the establishment of “coalitions of the willing”. This may lead to a certain downgrading of NATO, although the United States will still have significant interests in continuing the organization. But the United States’ NATO policy will also largely depend on which line Obama chooses in Afghanistan.
6: Great power politics
Obama’s pragmatic approach is clearly expressed in his policies toward the other great powers. When Secretary of State Clinton went to Asia on her first trip abroad, she deliberately focused on major interest policy issues, especially on the economy. Not least, it was striking how during her
visit to Beijing she failed to criticize China for its lack of respect for human rights. Climate issues have also become an important issue in the relationship between Americans and Chinese.
This business line has also shaped Obama’s policy toward Russia. Here, the continuation of agreements on the reduction of the two countries’ nuclear weapons has become a major issue. To a greater extent than Bush, Obama also has an understanding of Russian interests, which explains the cautious course he has chosen when it comes to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia. And although Obama denies that the decision to cancel the much-publicized missile shield in Europe had anything to do with Russian countries, this was perceived by most others, Russia included, as a consideration of Russian wishes.
At the same time, Obama does not see Russia as a major challenge for the United States. In any case, he sees the relationship with China as more important – both because China is becoming the main competitor of the United States’ power policy and because China, to a greater extent than Russia, shows a willingness to innovate in terms of power policy. In that case, the latter could be crucial to Obama’s ability to deal with North Korea’s security policy challenge.