NEW YORK – In less than two months, the American political transition will be over. The 45th president of the United States will settle into the Oval Office. President-elect Donald Trump will become President Trump; President Barack Obama will join Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush as a living former president.
Speculation about Trump’s likely foreign and domestic policies is rampant, but little if any of it is meaningful. Campaigning and governing are two very different activities, and there is no reason to assume that how Trump conducted the former will dictate how he approaches the latter. We also do not yet know who all the principal advisers will be and how (and how well) they will work together.
But amidst this uncertainty, there are some things we do know. The first is that Trump will be greeted by an inbox piled high with difficult international challenges. To be sure, no single problem compares with the Cold War at its height, but the sheer number and complexity of difficult issues is without precedent in modern times.
Topping the list will be the Middle East, a region in an advanced stage of unraveling. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya are all dealing with a mix of civil and proxy wars. The Iran nuclear pact at best manages one aspect of Iranian power, and only for a limited duration. The Islamic State (ISIS) may lose its territorial dimension; but it, along with other groups, will continue to pose a terrorist threat for years to come. The plight of millions of refugees constitutes not just a humanitarian tragedy, but also an economic and strategic burden to countries in the region and in Europe.