Dunsmore: President Obama’s agenda

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(HOST) This week on President Barack Obama’s agenda  – Afghanistan and Pakistan. Next week – Israel and Palestine.  As commentator and long time ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore sees it, Mr. Obama is now facing a series of international crises with the potential to derail the best laid plans for his presidency.

(DUNSMORE) Of course, the collapse of the world economy and the threat of global climate change are matters of monumental importance. But even as President Obama is deeply engaged with those issues, he has crucial decisions to make in foreign policy that deal with America’s vital interests.

As for Afghanistan/Pakistan, the issue is not just how to support their shaky democratic governments and clean up the terrorists on their shared border – it is how to keep Pakistan’s nuclear weapons out of the hands of fanatics such as the Taliban and al-Qaeda. In the Middle East, the question is not just how to get Israeli-Palestinian peace talks restarted – it is how to save the whole concept of an independent Palestinian state, on which the long term future of Arab-Israeli relations depends.  With Iran, it’s not just to begin a much needed dialogue with a troublesome regional power trying to develop nuclear weapons – it is also to head off an Israeli military strike against Iran that could have catastrophic consequences.

I have to confess that I’m not sure what should be done with Afghanistan/Pakistan. It has been many years since I was on the ground there, and the situation has, of course, changed. One thing that has not changed is the Pakistani army’s obsession with India.  So I do think it would help if Obama could persuade India to move some of its troops away from the Pakistani border in Kashmir. That might encourage Pakistan’s generals to finally take serious actions against the growing internal threat of the Taliban.

Israel/Palestine/Iran is a different but no less potentially explosive issue. The new Israeli government has said it won’t deal with the subject of Palestinian independence until it is sure that Iran is no longer a threat to become a nuclear power. And Israel has implied it is prepared to take matters into its own hands by attacking Iran to prevent it from doing so. Israelis argue that Iran’s anti-Semitic President Ahmadinejad is akin to Hitler, and with a nuclear weapon Iran would threaten Israel’s very existence.

While their concerns are understandable,  perhaps Obama can remind the Israelis that they do have a major, strategic nuclear arsenal of their own that is far superior to anything Iran is likely to have for a long time. That changes the Hitler comparison. It makes Iran’s threat to Israel more along the lines of the Soviet nuclear threat to America for the many years of the Cold War. After all, when Nikita Khrushchev blustered- "We will bury you," Americans took him very seriously.

As is so often the case, there are no easy and maybe not even any good solutions to these urgent problems. Often times the choice is reduced to what is the least awful. On the other hand, failure to act, or making the wrong decision, can have dire consequences. Not to overstate it – America’s own national security is very much at stake in each of these crises.

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