President Obama faces whole world of expectation
Obama will be unable to satisfy everyone at home and abroad, especially right away, so a vital part of his baptism of fire will be how he manages the hopes and inevitable disappointments of an expectant world.The expectations of a world crying out for strong leadership will weigh heavily upon the shoulders of Barack Obama when he takes office on Tuesday as the 44th president of the United States.
His "first and most immediate" concern must be the Middle East, Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the British parliament, and Obama's initial task will be to prevent new bloodshed between Israel and Hamas.
In the wider Middle East, Obama is expected to take a very different approach to that of his predecessor George W. Bush, whose Iraq invasion so damaged America's standing in the Arab world.
Hillary Clinton, Obama's choice for secretary of state, has signalled a bold break from the Bush era of "rogue states" and "the axis of evil," saying the new administration will seek diplomatic engagement with Iran and Syria.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday he was awaiting a "fundamental change" of US policy.
Obama aides say one of his first acts as president will be to order the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, a symbol for many of all that was wrong with Bush's war on terror.
Greater travails may lie in Afghanistan. Obama has singled out the country as his main front in the war on terrorism and plans to deploy 30,000 more US troops there over the next 18 months.
"We are hoping to see a radical change in the way we are fighting the war on terrorism," said Homayun Hamidzada, spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"The promises that were made on focusing on the safe havens, focusing on Pakistan, we all know and agree that the solution for Afghanistan lies in a regional approach."
With India still smarting from the Mumbai terror attacks, which it blames on Pakistan-based militants, Obama will have to walk a diplomatic tightrope between the nuclear-armed South Asian rivals.
"India will be watching to see how the Obama administration responds to Pakistan, and what pressure he will bring to bear on Pakistan over terrorism," said Lalit Mansingh, a former Indian ambassador to Washington.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have plumbed Cold War depths since the Georgia-Russia conflict in August and Obama will struggle to "reset" relations with an "increasingly assertive" Russia as he said he wishes.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Saturday he had noted "positive signals" about Obama but cautioned against "big expectations."
China's rulers, whose security so depends on maintaining the emerging superpower's extraordinary economic rise, will be watching closely for any signs of a more protectionist position on trade.
Clinton told Tuesday's Senate hearing America wanted a "positive and cooperative" relationship with China.
Zeng Jinyan, wife of jailed Chinese activist Hu Jia and herself a well-known dissident, pleaded for the new administration to do more to pressure Beijing over human rights.
"I hope Obama can pay more attention to human rights when dealing with China, especially freedom of expression and association," she said.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, whose first official act after ousting John Howard in November 2007 was to sign the Kyoto Protocol, is among those looking to Obama for action on climate change.
Obama vowed in mid-December a new impetus in US leadership on combating climate change, but any large-scale energy reforms will be hampered by another predominating concern: how to steer the US economy out of the doldrums.
With the demand slump affecting everywhere from India to South America to Africa, and job losses piling up in Europe's battered economies, all are anxious for Obama to succeed as quickly as possible.
All eyes will be on the new US leader at a key G-20 summit in London in April on revamping the rules that govern international finance.
"We cannot just stand by for years while the US auto industry is kept alive... with billions of dollars in taxpayers' money, producing then a competitive disadvantage in Germany."
Obama will be unable to satisfy everyone at home and abroad, especially right away, so a vital part of his baptism of fire will be how he manages the hopes and inevitable disappointments of an expectant world.