President-elect Barack Obama's election victory was only hours
old when Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued his congratulations -
and a demand to the incoming American commander-in-chief that US
airstrikes causing civilian casualties in his country be stopped.
It was an example of the mix of goodwill and tough challenges
facing the president-elect as he shifts from campaign mode to
implementing a foreign policy that will combine continuity in
international relationships with a clear departure from the foreign
policy of President Bush, international affairs experts and advisers
to the Obama team say.
"We're going to see a strategic world vision from a President
Obama that is very different from the one that guided the Bush
administration, but it is going to be unveiled through signals and a
series of speeches that will take us into the first 30 to 45 days of
the new presidency," says Bruce Jentleson, a former Clinton
administration State Department official now at the Terry Sanford
Institute of Public Policy at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
Top priorities will be Afghanistan, where Obama has said he wants
more troops but also a new, broader strategy beyond a military
focus; the international financial and economic crisis; an orderly
disengagement from Iraq; and what to do about Iran's nuclear
In a number of these top-priority areas, the policy itself is
unlikely to undergo a wholesale change, so much as the style
employed to address policy will look radically different, some
longtime foreign-policy experts say.
"It's hard to imagine there are going to be any dramatic changes
in policy, as much as there might be dramatic changes in the
approach to these policies," says Susan Eisenhower, a prominent
national security analyst and early Republican supporter of Obama's
"If you look at the Clinton-to-Bush transition, there was
significant extension of the groundwork already laid, whether in
NATO expansion, or how Clinton used preemption in the Balkans," she
says. "So while it may seem heretical to some to say, I think we
will see a lot of continuity, but with a change of style and a
meaningful dialogue that the international community is very much
looking forward to having with us."
Beyond that, expect to see some high-profile statements or
gestures even in the transition period on international issues like
global warming and war-on-terror detainees that will signal how Mr.
Obama intends to repair cooperation with the world community and to
refurbish American global leadership.
"Climate change is one of those areas, where the US has been more
laggard than leader, where some signal will be sent that we are
shifting gears and are prepared to reestablish not just cooperation
but, really, American leadership," says Mr. Jentleson.
A United Nations climate change conference in Poland in early
December could be a venue Obama uses - either by attending himself
or by sending a representative - to send a message of new American
dedication to both addressing global warming and to assuming a
leadership role on the issue. …