Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama has called for the withdrawal of combat troops

Obama placed heavy emphasis on foreign policy issues during his campaign, and frequently declared that a withdrawal from Iraq would be "first priority" of his presidency. However, the economic crisis reshuffled his priorities, some advisers acknowledged. The crisis will siphon away his attention and may slow some foreign policy efforts, they said.

Still, the enthusiastic international reaction to his election could help Obama in early initiatives to strengthen ties with international alliances, a frequent campaign theme, and to change U.S. policies that have been condemned abroad, such as Guantanamo and policies on interrogating detainees.

President-elect Barack Obama is expected to distance himself quickly from the unpopular foreign policy of President Bush, seeking to mend relations with foreign leaders and considering advice to shutter the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison and inaugurate a new climate change effort.

However, on more intractable problems, such as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, Obama is expected to move gingerly as he reshapes the U.S. approach while preserving his options and accounting for the concerns of allies in the Middle East, advisers said.

"He needs to say 'I'm listening to our allies and to our military leaders, and we're developing a plan,'" said an adviser. "He doesn't need to lock himself into a rigid schedule that would allow the enemy to game this out in advance and would make it harder for us to withdraw."

Obama's team expects his early moves will be "appreciated overseas, and create a more favorable environment for the new administration right at the start," another adviser said, also on condition of anonymity.

Taking such steps would provide a needed dramatic break from the past, said the second adviser. The world has so soured on the Bush administration that foreign leaders now are suspicious of U.S. proposals, "even when they're good ones," the adviser added.

Obama has declared that Guantanamo should be closed and that detainees should be handled through the U.S. military justice system. He also has pledged to organize an international coalition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

These are among issues have been a source of ongoing friction between the Bush administration and many U.S. allies, but are more under the control of White House decision-making than are the far more entrenched problems in countries where the U.S. military is involved.

On Iraq, Obama has called for the withdrawal of combat troops within 16 months, but also has reserved some flexibility in his position.

On Iran, Obama said during the campaign that he intended to conduct high-level talks with officials of the regime. Now however, some advisers are emphasizing the careful preparations needed before any such meeting.

On Afghanistan, Obama has argued that the United States must give greater emphasis to combating extremism, by adding troops among other measures.

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