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  America
Letters from Tokyo
USA — Obama Faces Major Internal and External Problems
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
Barack Obama

Barack Obama will soon take full control over the United States of America (USA) and all his grand visions and hopes will be tested to the full. However, given the current economic crisis and negative external problems, then can Obama implement real change? Or are the problems too complex to resolve given the seriousness of the situation?

It is abundantly clear that Obama faces many major problems and this applies to the economy of America, the global economy, international relations, social inequality in America, the health care service, and a host of other major problems. At the same time, resources are limited but expenditure is alarmingly high and the budget deficit just keeps on ticking. Therefore, the time for soundbites will soon come to an end and either "a new dawn" awaits or "the same dawn" will become a fresh reality?

In the field of international relations then it is clear that Afghanistan and Iraq will test Obama to the full because many questions remain to be answered. The war in Iraq, without doubt, is far from over because major tensions remain and terrorism is still a serious problem in this nation. However, in recent times the death count is clearly down and Iraqi security forces are taking control over their nation. Yet if America pulled-out, then a power struggle may emerge between Shia-Sunni factions, factions within both camps, ethnic divisions, and centralization policies may be dealt a serious blow. Also, radical Islam is waiting for breathing space, just like the Taliban waited in Afghanistan therefore Obama faces an uphill struggle to solve this complex problem.

Obama also knows that the situation in Afghanistan is very serious and he may take tougher decisions with regards to radicals holding out in parts of northern Pakistan? He certainly hinted that Pakistan was a serious problem and recent news states that America is thinking about a missile shield to be based in India. Therefore, with current tensions being on the increase between India and Pakistan, it is clear that Obama needs to think long and hard before upsetting the applecart. If he does decide to change direction then he must implement real change and not merely tinker because this region is very strategic and important given the nuclear dimension.

More closer to home, the issue of Hispanic immigration and drug cartels in Mexico spreading their influence in America is a real issue. This especially applies to frontline areas in parts of southern America. Also, given the current economic crisis in America and growing unemployment, then ethnic politics and tensions may increase. For many Americans, this is a real issue and Obama knows full well that ethnic politics is a growing factor in America and he needs to placate Americans who are worried about this issue. However, he also knows that he can not afford to alienate the Hispanic community therefore his policies must be both firm but offer something in return.

On the economic front, Obama faces a major struggle and 2009 will witness rising unemployment, industrial disputes, a growing budget deficit, housing crisis, and more failures in both the banking sector and other sectors. Obama warned about the severity of the situation during his speech at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. He stated that "I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible." He further added that the ongoing crisis "could last for years" without major solutions being implemented.

However, it is clear that the USA will witness more pain and the economic package will add to America's debt which is already very high. Of course he must introduce many new economic measures but it is easy to squander resources and he must think long and hard. Also, the car sector is in crisis and in the past this sector was "a black whole." However, millions of Americans rely on this sector for jobs or have pensions from past work, therefore, this issue is very emotional. Yet is protectionism or state socialism via enormous investment the answer? Whatever Obama does, he certainly can not please everyone but it does appear that "big government" in this sector and the banking sector is on its way.

Other major issues also exist within America and outside of America. For example health care is a serious problem in America and the same applies to unemployment-insurance. Also, growing unemployment and housing problems means that social issues will burden the government. Therefore, poverty is clearly going to increase and this will lead to more government spending so taxation will become a hot issue.

In the international arena you have the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and a host of other major problems including the Democratic Republic of Congo. Added to this is terrorism, delicate relations with the Russian Federation, the Korean Peninsula, and loss of power in South America. So it is clear that the road remains bumpy but this is not unique to the Obama administration but given the domestic crisis, then it appears to be magnified.

Overall, I believe that Obama's first term is all about installing economic stability and focusing on areas which can be developed in the international arena. I think that Obama must focus on "soft international areas" which can be developed, notably improving relations with the Russian Federation. Yet major areas of crisis, for example Afghanistan, will be more complex because Islamic militants will see any weakness to be a victory for them. However, he may be more open to calming the North Korean issue because America desires to focus on a more limited area given the current economic and international climate.

Therefore, it would appear that Obama can not implement real change because the current economic situation is too severe. Also, events in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other ongoing areas, remain problematic and this will continue to be the case. The Obama mantra will therefore be on the backfoot from the start and a more pragmatic approach will follow. If Obama can survive the first term in office then you may witness real reforms in the second term if he is re-elected. However, for now, it is all about stabilizing the economy and being more open to the international community.

Lee Jay Walker
leejayteach@hotmail.com



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Correspondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, He earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies in Nottingham Trent University. He also studied business at London Institute.

 

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