Swoop: Washington’s World: February 1st – February, 7th 2010

Swoop: Washington’s World: February 1st – February, 7th 2010
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“As President Obama seeks to recalibrate his presidency, he is returning his focus to domestic issues.

His January 28th State of the Union Address devoted relatively little attention to foreign policy. Henceforward, his plan will be to give time to those matters that fall within the context of the ‘war on terror’, but otherwise to focus on the revival of the domestic economy. As we have reported earlier, this was Obama’s original intention on assuming office.

In seeking to return to this posture, he does so with a much less favorable domestic political environment. For example, an awkward dilemma has emerged on where to hold the forthcoming trial of the 9/11 conspirators, now that powerful political opposition in New York has prompted the Administration to undo its original decision to locate the trial in Manhattan. The greater danger here, we hear from senior Administration contacts, is that this setback will revive charges that the Democrats are “weak on national security” by wishing to try these cases in civil rather than military courts.

We anticipate that this debate will spill over onto discussions of unconnected options. One of these could be the issue of how, if at all, to involve the Taliban in a future political settlement in Afghanistan. Senior US military leaders now accept the desirability of some future role for “moderate” Taliban elements. The question for Obama is whether he will have to be “tough” in Afghanistan and thus reduce the scope of this initiative.

Certainly, he will be taking a tough approach to Iran where he enjoys wide Congressional support to impose new sanctions on Tehran.

He also faces, as we indicated last week, an awkward period in relations with China in the wake of a new arms sales agreement with Taiwan, the confrontation with Google and increasingly critical comments from Secretary of State Clinton about China’s reluctance to agree Iran sanctions.. National Security Council officials tell us that they expect a “loud” response from Beijing but expect that this will moderate as Beijing factors in the bigger picture of the need for US-China cooperation. We are, however, seeing signs of increasing worry inside Administration circles that the Chinese reaction could be more far-ranging.”