The Swoop: Washington’s World: May 16th – May 22nd, 2011

The Swoop: Washington’s World: May 16th – May 22nd, 2011
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“The aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden continues to bring political advantage for President Obama. Should, as some US officials increasingly hope, a breakthrough take place in Libya, he will enter the 2012 presidential campaign with formidable foreign policy credentials.

Last week’s round of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue also produced a less contentious outcome than seemed likely at one time. There is no shortage of problems between the two countries but, for the moment, both sides find it convenient to negotiate quietly.

Where this relatively benign state of affairs could most easily change is if the US budget talks run intio an impasse.

Also in the background are tensions over maritime policy, with the US seeking to form groupings with Asian powers like India, Japan and Indonesia to counter what US analysts see as Chinese naval assertivenss in energy-rich international waters like the South China Sea.

How Obama uses his moment of foreign policy eminence is fiercely debated in Washington. His most pressing problem is Pakistan. An NSC official put it to us like this: “We face a collision of US and Pakistan politics. Public opinion on both sides wants to cut ties with the other. However, we are mutually dependent. We have to find a way through the present crisis.” Obama himself and top Congressional leaders are actively engaging with their counterparts in Islamabad to cool passions.

The critical issue is continuance of US drone attacks against Taliban elements sheltering in the border regions. Pentagon and CIA officials to whom we speak are not confident about a satisfactory resoution.

Elsewhere, the resignation of Middle East envoy George Mitchell confirms what we have been reporting for some time, specifically that no new peace initative will be forthcoming from the Administration before the 2012 election. Mitchell himself has been barely active for some months. His resignation reflects the realities of Washington politics.

Finally, last week’s meeting of Arctic littoral nations highlights an area that will repay attention. As global warming renders these waters more accessible, interest in natural resource exploitation and shipping lanes will intensify. With Russia making very broad assertions of exclusive sovereignty and many other claims overlapping, the potential for dispute is obvious. However, experts close to the process tell us that they are optimistic that the dispute resolution mechanisms now in place will prove robust and that conflicts can be avoided.”