Should the US President and commander in chief accept the recommendations of his top generals and order tens of thousands more American troops to fight the Taleban in Afghanistan? Or should Mr Obama heed the advice of his Vice President, Joseph Biden, and other civilians to scale down the military operation and instead concentrate on attacking al-Qaeda targets across the border in Pakistan?
Six months ago, the choice seemed clear. Mr Obama replaced the US commander of forces in Afghanistan and ordered the deployment of 21,000 extra troops for what was regarded as the “good war”, in contrast to the US engagement in Iraq. Now the roles have been reversed. US forces are slowly pulling out of Iraq as the Government in Baghdad begins to take control of the country. By contrast, the authorities in Kabul look weaker than ever. The Taleban control more of the country than at any time since their ousting in 2001. Support for the war is collapsing among key Nato contributing nations. President Hamid Karzai, once regarded as a saviour is now widely discredited amid widespread allegations of vote rigging in his re-election victory in August.
Mr Obama does not have any attractive options. He knows that if he miscalculates the entire eight-year mission in Afghanistan could be doomed — comparisons are already being made with America’s defeat in Vietnam. Nato’s credibility as the most powerful alliance in history may never recover. The forces of militant Islam will record a massive victory. His decision due in October after a series of consultations with senior aides will mark a pivotal moment in his young presidency.
Unfortunately for Mr Obama, Afghanistan is not the only thorny foreign policy issue looming this autumn. The threat posed by Iran’s nuclear programme, highlighted by the discovery of a secret uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom, is another major obstacle. The issue will come to a head on Thursday in Geneva when the Iranians will sit down with officials from America, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany. For the first time in years there appears to be a much stronger international will to confront Tehran and possibly impose further sanctions if the Iran does not agree to halt its enrichment programme. The West suspects that Tehran wants to use its civilian nuclear programme to produce fissile material for an atomic bomb. If Kremlin hardens its position and supports Western moves for sanctions then only China will stand in the way of concerted action. If the Iranians do not back down, there are real fears that Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilties.
The tense atmosphere in the region would be greatly eased if progress could be achieved in Middle East peace efforts. But so far, nine months of US diplomacy has achieved next to nothing. Israel’s right-wing government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to freeze the construction of Jewish settlements on Arab land, a precondition for talks with the Palestinian leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas. Real progress is still unlikely while Hamas, the militant Islamic movement, continues to control the Gaza Strip.
A much more contemporary crisis will be the focus of intense negotiations in December when delegates from 192 countries will gather in Copenhagen to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto protocol for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. World leaders will be desperate to reach some kind of deal by the end of the conference, but there are growing doubts that the world’s biggest polluters are prepared to make the necessary concessions. The Copenhagen conference will have failed unless it sets stretching 2020 emissions targets for each country and a date by which each nation would begin to cut overall emissions.
Europe will also be the focus for a key stage in the evolution of the European Union, two decades after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, which led to the unification of Germany and the integration of East and West Europe.
This time Irish voters, who previously rejected provisions contained in the Lisbon treaty to streamline decision-making in Brussels, will have another chance to vote on October 2. If the referendum is rejected, then the treaty will be dead.
But if the treaty is passed, as polls suggest it will be, Lisbon looks likely to be ratified by all 27 member-states. This will mean, among other provisions, the creation of the first EU president and foreign minister.
One candidate expected to run for the presidency is Tony Blair. Two years after he retired from mainstream politics, the former Prime Minister has been polishing his French and secretly canvassing support in European capitals for what would be an extraordinary comeback. He is said to have secured the support of several leaders in Europe, but others will try to block his return. Such a high profile leader in an important new post could challenge the authority of the big states and eclipse the leaders of the smaller ones. Others may question Mr Blair’s European credentials. After all, he chose to keep Britain out of the euro when he was Prime Minister and broke ranks with European allies to support America in its invasion of Iraq.
© ООО «Нефтегазпресс» 2011-2022