There is little point outlining what Obama should do. There is no dearth of pontificating advisers. Consider instead what he most likely will do. This scribe believes that in foreign policy Obama will carry forward the process of realizing the objectives for which the foundation was laid by President Bush in his second term. These policy objectives were a complete reversal of the Bush policies of his first term. But the Bush image was so badly scarred by his first term that success remained elusive. Obama will start with a clean slate. He will deal with a world receptive to initiatives from Washington because they would be introduced by undeniably the most historic and exciting new President in US history. So what will Obama do?
He will attempt to clinch in the next four years the creation of an independent Palestine state. Bush in his second term had leaned heavily on Israel to compel its withdrawal from the Gaza settlements. He had allowed Hamas to contest the election, win it, and gain legitimacy to enter negotiations. He had succeeded in gathering together all the Arab leaders to endorse a peace plan in principle. Now Obama has a foundation to work on. He can clinch an Israel-Palestine agreement. One expects him to achieve it in the next four years.
Bush carried on a covert dialogue with Iran behind the smokescreen of bellicose rhetoric about Iran's nuclear programme. It might be noted that the rhetoric was never translated into action by either the US or Iran. The secret dialogue related to achieving a settlement between the majority Shiite and minority Sunni regions of Iraq. Once that is achieved only a token US presence may be required in Iraq by when the Iraqis would be sufficiently consolidated to govern without outside interference. The completion of this process could be Obama's second achievement.
However, the most crucial and immediate task that Obama will address relates to South Asia. He will attempt to neutralize Al Qaeda based in the region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has already indicated that this is his top priority and first task. He recognizes that after effective military action there will have to be an acceptable political settlement. And he is smart enough to realize that a settlement without altering international borders would be needed. That requires, as this scribe has repeatedly pointed out, an overall formula for the entire South Asian region. If the Kashmir dispute is settled, not only will that enable Pakistan to focus on Afghanistan. The peace formula for ending the Kashmir dispute could provide the template for a Pakistan-Afghanistan settlement, one that is acceptable to the Taliban. Such a formula alone will induce the bulk of Pashtuns to dump the Al Qaeda. Through a knee-jerk reaction Indian commentators have expressed alarm over Obama's comment linking the Kashmir settlement to the Afghanistan problem. Such alarm is unwarranted. President Bush was operating through President Zardari. Obama may opt for a more direct approach. As long as India's interests are safeguarded any positive influence exerted by the US on Pakistan should be welcomed.
This scribe had always indicated that the future may create a cohesive world order in which the US will function more like the world capital than a conventional nation state. The time for such transition may have come. India can play a great role in this transition by taking the initiative to create a new South Asian order which renders international borders irrelevant.