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President Obama and the World

In the view of many analysts, the United States enters 2009 as a power in decline. Its freewheeling financial system, once the envy of the world, is blamed for sparking a global economic crisis rivaled only by the Great Depression. Emerging economies less exposed to the crisis and blessed with other advantages (low labor costs, natural resources) stand to gain in financial power and political influence, writes Roger C. Altman in Foreign Affairs. Yale historian Paul Kennedy adds that heavy dependence on foreign investors like China reflects a scale of U.S. indebtedness comparable to imperial Spain or France prior to their decline from global preeminence (WSJ). Additionally, the Bush administration's war with Iraq damaged the credibility of the United States, which had insisted on the danger posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, then emphasized Iraq's value as a budding democracy when the threat was found not to exist. The U.S. government's own National Intelligence Council says global U.S. dominance "will erode at an accelerating pace" over the next sixteen years.

Into this troubling mix strides Barack Obama, whose historic presidential campaign promised change on the heels of the unpopular Bush presidency. Besides vowing to reorder U.S. domestic priorities, Obama pledges to restore U.S. moral leadership in the world. In the eyes of many analysts, he inherits the most daunting challenges since Franklin D. Roosevelt took office seventy-six years ago.

Obama's first order of business is shepherding through a giant stimulus for the U.S. economy. But he doesn't have the luxury of ignoring a packed foreign policy agenda, including his duties as commander-in-chief of the nearly 200,000 soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the tricky diplomatic efforts to neutralize the...

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