Obama Across the Pacific

MANILA – Unlike his predecessor, US President Barack Obama is popular from the Atlantic to the Pacific. He has reached out to the Muslim world and pledged to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without delay. The nations of Asia have a particular affection for him, owing to the years he spent as a child in Indonesia.

If Obama improves America’s global standing with support from political heavyweights such as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Bob Gates, National Security Adviser James Jones (a former NATO Supreme Commander), and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki (a former United States Army Chief), he should be able to ask more from America’s allies, particularly for NATO to send more troops to Afghanistan. He will also be able to push Israel to reinvigorate the derailed Middle East peace process.

Although his national security team consists of people who largely supported the war in Iraq, Obama has made it clear that his agenda includes withdrawing troops from that country. International goodwill will probably be the key to his success, if not in re-establishing American hegemony, then at least in making America the “indispensable nation” once more.

Although Obama is likely to give priority in his diplomacy to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he cannot take the Asia-Pacific region’s stability for granted. The sources of uncertainty are many: tension between South and North Korea; anxiety over nuclear proliferation posed by cooperation between North Korea and Iran; managing the rise of China and India; and continued Islamist extremism on the Indian sub-continent, particularly Pakistan, as well as in Southeast Asia, where Al-Qaeda has established a second front through Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah .