WASHINGTON – One day during George W. Bush’s presidency,a group of men walked into the White House Situation Room and dumped a pile of rubble on the conference room table. The debris was the aftermath of a new computer worm,one that could literally make machines explode.
The worm was thought to be capable of destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities,said David E. Sanger,chief Washington correspondent for The New York Times. Sanger was speaking at a discussion on future foreign policy and national security challenges at the New York University D.C. campus on Monday.
When Bush saw the scraps of metal in the conference room,he moved ahead with tests to develop the weapon,Sanger said. The program was passed to President Barack Obama,who expanded it dramatically.
Obama’s first term included drone strikes in Yemen and troop surges in Afghanistan. But overall,his foreign policy was largely characterized by caution and delayed action,such as in response to conflicts in Syria,Libya and Mali,said Karen DeYoung,the senior national security correspondent for The Washington Post.
Pointing to instability in Libya and Mali,DeYoung said both are indicative of the challenges Obama faces combating terrorism in North Africa and the Sahel region.
“Al-Qaida and its affiliates are kind of like a balloon without much air in it,” she said. “If you squeeze it in one place,it’ll expand somewhere else.”
Obama’s preference for countering terrorists has involved containment,a strong intelligence network and targeted killings. After wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,the American public would swiftly oppose more ground invasions and the rewiring of foreign governments,DeYoung said.
“They’re not interested in spending more money and having troops die in countries they can’t find on a map,” she said.
The severest reactions from the hundreds of U.S. authorized drone strikes could come from Pakistan,Sanger said. A nuclear power,Pakistan has scores of radical factions running rampant throughout the country,and the possibility of terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons has caused the White House many headaches.
A long-term solution to Pakistan isn’t foreseeable in the near future,Sanger said.
Obama will also have to deal with fallout from upheaval in the Middle East,a nuclear Iran and the rising economic power of China.
While the speakers weren’t sure how Obama’s approach to foreign policy would change in his second term,Sanger said further U.S. engagement in Asia provides a clue for Obama’s global legacy. Specifically,the president will have to work with or heighten competition against China.
“For however important the counter-terrorism issues will be,or the future of al-Qaida,” Sanger said,“the question of whether or not the president got China right will probably be what he gets remembered for in the foreign policy sphere.”
Reach reporter Amer Taleb at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.