Our Change, His Challenge

Foreign Policy, January-February 2009 | Go to article overview

Our Change, His Challenge


What if he can't?

In the weeks after Barack Obama's historic win, it's a question that seemed even downright impertinent to ask. As the world celebrated the sheer improbability of the young, new American president's rise--and his stirring promises of change--the conversation has been more "Yes, he did" than "What will he do next?" But this issue of Foreign Policy convenes a provocative cast of writers, thinkers, and doers who suggest, in different ways, why even Obama might not be able to overcome the daunting global challenges he will face.

There are few more pressing than global warming. And on this subject, it's not wrong to call Bill McKibben a prophet; he warned about the Earth's heating atmosphere before most had heard the words "climate change." His powerful Think Again overturns what remained of our comforting assumptions about global warming: "Solving this crisis," McKibben concludes, "is no longer an option."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Then there are the grinding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Obama comes to office determined to wind down the one and to salvage a flagging effort in the other. America's warrior-scholars, led by Gen. David Petraeus, are rewriting not just the campaign plan for a losing war in Afghanistan--they're on a mission to apply Big Ideas about small wars to the entire U.S. military. They are selling the new president on a major strategic shift toward a full-fledged counterinsurgency operation in Afghanistan, designed, as Petraeus told FP days after taking on this next war, "to be seen as serving the population, in addition to securing it." But Petraeus is also sanguine about the challenge of what he calls the "longest campaign of the long war." What Obama now faces is the uncomfortable reality that ending the war in Iraq may actually be easier than winning the war in Afghanistan. …

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