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The World That Awaits

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
October 25, 2008
Newsweek

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There are only two and a half months-76 days, to be precise-between Election Day and your Inauguration, and you will need every one of them to get ready for the world you will inherit. This is not the world you've been discussing on the trail for the last year or more: campaigning and governing could hardly be more different. The former is necessarily done in bold strokes and, to be honest, often approaches caricature. All candidates resist specifying priorities or trade-offs lest they forfeit precious support. You won, but at a price, as some of the things you said were better left unsaid. Even more important, the campaign did not prepare the public for the hard times to come.

There will be days when you will wonder why you worked so hard to get this job. What will make it so difficult is not just all that awaits, but the constraints that will limit what you can actually do. When George W. Bush became president nearly eight years ago the world was largely at peace, the U.S. military was largely at rest, oil was $23 a barrel, the economy was growing at more than 3 percent, $1 was worth 116 yen, the national debt was just under $6 trillion and the federal government was running a sizable budgetary surplus. The September 11 attacks, for all they cost us as a nation, increased the world's willingness to cooperate with us. You, by contrast, will inherit wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tired and stretched armed forces, a global struggle with terrorism, oil that has ranged as high as $150 a barrel, a weaker dollar (now worth 95 yen), substantial anti-American sentiment, a federal budget deficit that could reach $1 trillion in your first year, a ballooning national debt of some $10 trillion and a global economic slowdown that will increase instability in numerous countries.

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