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Published: Friday, 12/31/2010

New year brings no basket of cheer for U.S. diplomacy

THE crafters of American foreign policy will have to wrestle with a host of issues in 2011, not least of which will be leadership changes in the House of Representatives.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will face a Republican takeover of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its subcommittees. The new chairmen will include Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, an anti-Castro Cuban exile who favors Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's negative approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That is just one minefield the Obama Administration will have to navigate as it addresses a long list of foreign-policy concerns. Among the others:

1. America cannot be taken seriously overseas, by allies or enemies, while its own household expenses are in such dreadful shape. The United States must fix its budget deficit and the soaring national debt, much of which is borrowed from the people whom we face in supposedly serious negotiations. Otherwise, we increasingly become an international bad joke.

2. End the U.S. military occupation of Germany and Japan. The United States has 54,000 troops in Germany and 36,000 in Japan, nearly 66 years after World War II ended. The argument that U.S. troops are needed to defend those countries is false: Japan is the world's third largest economy and Germany the fifth. We can save money and redeploy our forces where they're needed by leaving Germany and Japan.

3. Withdraw the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in 2011, as agreed. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki insists on it. Don't be distracted by the possibility of growing sectarian violence when we leave. Withdrawal will save money and end an expensive, eight-year war that was unnecessary.

4. Begin in July the withdrawal of the 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is expensive and nearly a decade old. It's expanded into Pakistan, where no one knows how hard or how expensive a war would be to "win." The conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan cost us $2 billion a week, which we are borrowing.

5. Push Israel and the Palestinians to meet the one-year time frame set by Mr. Obama for an agreement on a two-state settlement. Such an accord would restore our credibility in the world. An Israeli-Palestinian peace accord would not end tensions between the West and the Islamic world, but it would help.

6. Make a major effort, in coordination with China, to ease tensions between North Korea and South Korea. One step that would help - and reduce the U.S. budget deficit and debt - would be to withdraw the 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, a remnant of the Korean War that ended in 1953. Both Koreas need to know that if they go to war with each other, neither the United States nor China will intervene.

7. Improve U.S.-Chinese relations. President Hu Jintao has a visit to Washington scheduled this month. That's a start. But special efforts should be made not to let points of friction, such as disputes over islands off China's coast, fester while communication is weak. One example is military-to-military dialogue, which currently is cold. That's unacceptable.

8. Don't let Israel or anyone else push the United States into a war with Iran, the way some neoconservatives pushed America into invading Iraq. The logic was that if the United States was fully occupied trying to control Iraq, it would be too busy to bother Israel about peace with the Palestinians. It worked with President George W. Bush. It mustn't be allowed to work with Mr. Obama.

9. Mr. Obama should fulfill his pre-election pledge to establish fruitful dialogue with Cuba. It's worth doing for its own sake - Cuba is a potentially rich trading partner and close at hand - and will promote better relations with Latin America.

10. Finally, the United States should resist the temptation to be drawn into conflicts in Africa that are always with us. They are far away, incidental to U.S. concerns, and expensive. We have little interest in taking them on, and no money to do so.

It should be a challenging year.

Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is an editorial writer and columnist for The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Contact him at: dsimpson@post-gazette.com



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