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LISBON, Jan 28 2009 (IPS) - In office only since January 20, US President Barack Obama has jumped into action so quickly he has not given adversaries or observers the time to organise criticism or attacks. Meanwhile Europeans, and in particular their political leaders, do not seem to have grasped the “Copernican revolution” that is underway in the US and appear stunned and incapable of reacting to the new developments that are taking place each day in Washington.

What is happening is a peaceful revolution, endorsed by a broad majority of voters, and, according to a poll taken immediately after his inaugural address, supported by 84 percent of the people.

Expectations are huge, as are the problems and the difficulties facing the new president. Americans, like the rest of the world, place an enormous amount of hope in this remarkably well-prepared and clear-thinking 47-year-old African-American with a humanist, unitarian, and patriotic vision for the United States, a proclivity towards peace, dialogue, and human rights, and who without waiting a second banned the practice of torture and declared that within a year the concentration camp at Guantanamo would be closed and American troops would begin to be withdrawn from Iraq.

The new foreign policy will be a permanent headache for Obama, as is all too evident in this breakdown of its most prominent components:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict which, after the recent “futile war” devastated Gaza and brought the massacre of hundreds of innocent people, children in particular, left a hatred of Israel that will not go away in the near future. In Afghanistan, where NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) finds itself near defeat, the war stretches on implacably. Iran, which fortunately has not been attacked as Israel proposed, nonetheless presents a very complex challenge for negotiations. Lebanon remains in precarious condition two and a half years after another “futile war” which only sowed devastation and rancour. There is the fight against terrorism, which caused such awful damage during the presidency of George Bush, who never managed to find Al Qaeda’s hidden bases or capture Osama Bin Laden. Then there are relations with Russia and China, emerging countries and creditors of the US. Violence continues to erupt across Africa. Relations with Latin America, which is experiencing an accelerated transition phase, need to be adjusted. There is the embargo of Cuba, which there is reason to hope will be lifted. American-European relations need a tune-up to repair the damage caused by the Bush administration. Also on the list is improving relations with the United Nations and its specialised agencies as well as the international economic organisations, the World Bank and International Monetary Foundation, which need to be democratised and integrated into the UN system. Etcetera.

Moving from the international to the domestic front, the need for a break with the past and for new strategies to move ahead is equally great. This is especially true with regards to the environment. It is expected the Obama will sign the Kyoto Protocol. The greatest challenge, or course, is the economic crisis. The dazzling new president has devised a vast new programme of investment in public and private works intended to create jobs at a time when sharply rising unemployment constitutes the principal economic challenge for the US. He has already initiated negotiations with labour unions with the idea of granting them a higher profile and a larger role in his plan for creating a more democratic and more egalitarian society. He has also proposed to “put more money in the pockets of Americans”. And he has begun to rein in the vast network of political lobbies, which exert pressure on politicians, political operatives, and members of congress and have, though legal, been the main cause of government corruption. And as if that weren’t enough, he has stated his opposition to tax shelters and the movement of companies offshore, an opaque and secretive practice that has been one of the most massive political scandals in recent years. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Mario Soares is ex-president and ex-prime minister of Portugal.

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