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The Obama Surprise

Author: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
January 20, 2009
Daily News Egypt


The high hopes surrounding Barack Obama's presidency are mostly a good thing, as they remind us that much of the anti-American sentiment that is so apparent around the world is not and need not be permanent.

But this anticipation is also a problem for Obama, as it will be difficult--and in some instances impossible--for him to meet expectations. There will be no Palestinian state this spring; nor will there be a global climate change pact or a new trade accord or an end to poverty or genocide or disease anytime soon.

The reasons go beyond the reality that big accomplishments require time and effort. The incoming president faces extraordinary constraints--constraints that will make it essential for other countries to do more if stability and prosperity are to be the norm rather than the exception.

The most obvious limitation stems from the state of the American economy. Two million jobs disappeared in the last four months alone. The housing market continues to deteriorate. America's GDP is contracting at an almost unprecedented rate.

As a result, Obama will have no choice but to devote the lion's share of his time and attention to reviving the economy. More than anything else, his success in this domain will determine the perception of his administration. Even he acknowledges that this will require him to delay fulfilling several other campaign promises.

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