President Obama and his new national security team will inherit an inbox that is full and quite possibly overflowing. The Middle East alone could keep the Obama Administration fully occupied, what with a deadly civil war in Syria, the need to decide how best to head off Iran's apparent push to develop nuclear weapons, the uncertain course at home and abroad of Egypt's new government, international pressure to do something about the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians, and the real possibility of major instability in the pro-Western monarchies of Jordan or Bahrain or both.
But the president and his team won't have the luxury of focusing just on the greater Middle East. Indeed, one challenge will be not to allow this region to continue to dominate American foreign policy to the extent it has over the past decade, owing to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
One area sure to require considerable attention will be the Asia-Pacific. Heading off a crisis between China and its neighbors needs to be a priority. This will require the most nuanced diplomacy, not just with Beijing, but also with Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, and other capitals. This part of the world has been the venue of extraordinary economic growth for decades; the task will be to see that this growth is not interrupted by a revival of nationalism that makes it hard to prevent or, if need be, manage incidents involving rival military forces amid competing claims to territory and seas.