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Political Experts Say Obama Faces Major Challenges

The celebration of Barack Obama's election to the US presidency has died down and now the president-elect and his team begin to face the many choices that confront them as they prepare to assume office in January. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, political experts and foreign policy analysts say the new president will face some difficult challenges right from the start.

One of the most obvious problems for President-elect Obama is that he will enter office facing problems left over by outgoing President George Bush. Those problems include a financial crisis, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapon and a number of other situations all of which demand immediate attention.

Rice University Political Science professor Earl Black, co-author of the book Divided America, says new presidents have often had to deal with the problems left behind by their predecessor.

"He will face the situation, for example, that faced Ronald Reagan when he became the Republican president in January, 1981," said Earl Black. "He will have inherited all the problems associated with the previous administration."

Black says another problem for President-elect Obama may be the high expectations he has raised among the people who supported him.

"Since a lot of Obama's message emphasized hope and change and, to a large degree he was somewhat general about those, he has attracted, obviously, millions of supporters not all of whom probably agree on what change they want and what hopes they are hoping to be satisfied," he said.

Some of the biggest and most frightful challenges facing the new president will be in foreign affairs. Peter Zeihan, Vice President of Analysis for Stratfor, a Texas-based private intelligence and analysis company, says all presidents entering the White House find their options are limited. But, he says, President Obama will have some special problems to address.

"First, you have Iraq," he said. "He has promised his supporters that he will pull out as soon and as quickly as possible. However, unless he wants to turn around and re-deploy and go to war with Iran a year or two later, he has to be careful in how he does that. There needs to be some sort of agreement with Iran over the future of Iraq. Barring that, if you just have a naked pullout, there is really absolutely nothing that would stop the Iranians from taking over, whether directly or indirectly."

Such a move by Iran, Zeihan says, would endanger the Persian Gulf oil supplies and force a US response. Zeihan says the situation in Afghanistan and the refuge Taliban fighters have in nearby Pakistan will also challenge President Obama.

"The way that Obama has outlined that he will make a difference in this conflict is by tapping Europeans and calling on NATO allies to do more," he said. "Well, as the Bush administration has discovered, much to its chagrin, the Europeans don't have the forces in the first place to deploy, second, are not willing, as a general rule, to deploy them in combat situations and third, because of the global finance crisis, most of them are pulling their forces home from Afghanistan."

Zeihan says the new US president would risk provoking conflict with Pakistan if he sends US forces across the border from Afghanistan to pursue the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

He says the third security problem the Obama administration will face internationally is the increasing boldness of Russia, which is aggressively countering US attempts to expand NATO in eastern Europe. Zeihan says these are just some of the challenges for the new president.

"These are just the three security challenges, all of which, honestly, are more than enough to keep any president busy independently," said Zeihan. "All three together-Whew! I do not envy Obama. I would not have envied McCain, either."

Zeihan says US options will be limited in the years ahead because the country is over extended militarily and financially.

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