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Welcome to the real world

Western alliances

What he said: Obama has spoken of the need to repair cracks in America’s Western alliances. “America has no better partner than Europe,” he told a huge summer rally in Berlin, calling on both sides of the Atlantic to jointly combat terrorism, climate change, nuclear proliferation and other threats.

The reality: Obama will benefit by not being George Bush, who is widely reviled in Europe. But any U.S. attempt to have the North Atlantic Treaty Organization contribute more forces in Afghanistan could meet with resistance. Sluggishness and bickering in Europe could inhibit timely, concerted diplomatic and economic action -- to keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb, for example. Closer U.S. military cooperation with some countries in Eastern Europe could antagonize Russia. Europeans worry that Obama will erect trade barriers and resist subjecting Wall Street to transatlantic oversight.

-- Henry Chu in London

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Russia

What he said: Obama has said that he wants better ties with Moscow. His criticism of the Russian invasion in August to defend separatist rebels in Georgia’s breakaway republic of South Ossetia was restrained. He advocates deep cuts in American and Russian nuclear stockpiles, arguing that they will help persuade Iran and North Korea to forgo their nuclear programs.

The reality: It’s unlikely that any U.S. president can overcome an accumulation of grievances and forge completely smooth relations with Moscow. It’s unclear whether Obama will continue the Bush administration’s drive to expand NATO on Russia’s border. But an aggressive speech Wednesday by President Dmitry Medvedev, vowing to place short-range missiles on Russia’s western border, signals an intent to push back and test the new U.S. leader.

-- Megan Stack in Moscow

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China

What he said: Obama has asserted that China built its huge trade surplus with the U.S. by manipulating the value of its currency. He told an American industry group that he’d press China to focus on domestic demand for future economic growth.

The reality: Currency is only one issue affecting trade. Though U.S. pressure has led China to increase the value of its currency against the dollar over the last two years, that has put only a small dent in the trade surplus. Diplomatic pressure has less of an impact because the two economies are interdependent. China holds about $1 trillion in U.S. government bonds and related debt. China will resist sharp adjustments as the global slowdown causes factories to close and puts more of its citizens out of work.

-- Mark Magnier in Beijing

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Afghanistan

What he said: Obama has said the Afghanistan conflict is central to the fight against terrorism. He has called for the redeployment of combat troops from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to “finish the job” of defeating the Taliban and other Islamic insurgents, whose strength and reach have grown dramatically in the last three years.

The reality: Many diplomats and military strategists believe that even with a substantial troop buildup, the war in Afghanistan cannot be won militarily and that the Afghan government will ultimately choose to seek a political settlement. In the meantime, the U.S. may be forced to bear the burden of a buildup largely alone. Although European leaders have warmly welcomed Obama’s election, nearly all NATO partners are facing fierce domestic opposition to a greater military commitment in Afghanistan.

-- Laura King in Istanbul

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Iran

What he said: Obama has said that he would not accept a nuclear-armed Iran but would be willing to “open dialogue” with Iran’s leadership. He has said he might offer economic incentives if Iran is more cooperative on issues such as terrorism and nuclear development; that would give him more credibility to press for tougher sanctions or even military action if Iran won’t cooperate.

The reality: Despite years of international pressure and threats, Iran appears to be edging closer to mastering nuclear technology. To counter that, Obama must rally a stronger international coalition than the Bush administration was able to, outmaneuver Tehran, placate Israeli leaders who might want to strike Iran on their own, and stave off pressure from U.S. groups eager for armed confrontation with the Islamic Republic.

-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

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Iraq

What he said: Obama has said he wants to withdraw all combat troops within 16 months of taking office, in coordination with U.S. commanders and the Iraqi government. A residual force would remain to fight groups such as Al Qaeda in Iraq, and advisors would still train Iraqi security forces. Obama has argued that a tight deadline would force Iraqis to take steps toward political reconciliation.

The reality: Provincial and national elections in Iraq in the coming year might spark more violence and complicate Obama’s plans. U.S. commanders could argue they need a long-term troop presence to keep Iraq from sliding back, especially if the government resists reconciling Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Obama also could find the Iraqi government eager to see troops leave without any clear strategic benefit for the U.S.

-- Ned Parker and Tina Susman in Baghdad

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Israel

What he said: Obama has said he will keep the U.S. actively engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace effort that President Bush began near the end of his administration. Obama has called Israel’s security “nonnegotiable,” but has criticized Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The reality: Obama may find Israel less open to a deal after voters in February choose a prime minister to replace Ehud Olmert. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who leads in the polls, would probably postpone indefinitely any serious discussion of a Palestinian state. Moderate Palestinians involved in the peace talks are weak. Long-term prospects for an accord might require a move Israeli leaders and Obama have rejected: talks with the militant Palestinian movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and does not formally recognize the Jewish state.

-- Richard Boudreaux in Jerusalem

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Pakistan

What he said: Obama has said the U.S. will go after senior Al Qaeda and Taliban figures if there is “actionable intelligence” on their presence in the country’s tribal areas and Pakistan’s military is unable or unwilling to act. Osama bin Laden and some of his top lieutenants are believed to have found sanctuary in the rugged area abutting the border with Afghanistan.

The reality: Pakistan’s government is feeling the heat of domestic opposition to American airstrikes that have occurred on its soil. Many Pakistanis believe that the raids by unmanned U.S. drone aircraft, which have killed scores of civilians as well as some militant leaders, have fueled insurgent suicide attacks in Pakistani cities and towns.

-- Laura King in Istanbul

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Darfur

What he said: Obama has threatened to crack down on the ruling party in Sudan for failing to end the ethnic violence in the country’s Darfur region. He has criticized the Bush administration’s attempt to open normalization talks as an inappropriate reward for the Sudanese regime, and suggested that he would mobilize the international community to enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur.

The reality: Sudan, geographically the largest country in Africa, is highly unstable, and diplomacy may be the only option. Elections scheduled for next year may lead to the unraveling of a 2005 peace accord between the Arab-dominated government and former rebels in the south. An impending International Criminal Court arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir could worsen the fighting. Many predict a return to civil war if the regime collapses.

-- Edmund Sanders in Nairobi, Kenya

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Latin America

What he said: Obama has spoken of the need to strengthen security at the American border with Mexico as a way to reduce the movement of illegal immigrants and transnational gangs. He has emphasized a public-health approach to fighting illegal drugs, in an attempt to curtail consumption and demand. He advocates expanding regional security pacts beyond Colombia and Mexico.

The reality: Obama has not focused on the drug war raging in Mexico, which has claimed about 4,000 lives this year alone. Mexico’s powerful and heavily armed drug gangs have moved into the U.S., according to federal investigators, and are not likely to be deterred by more border agents.

Obama favors extending to other Latin American countries the so-called Merida Initiative, which allocates $400 million for Mexico’s police and judiciary. But many Central and South American nations are led by left-leaning politicians who would probably be wary of joining regional security pacts.

-- Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City


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