International Affairs
July 19, 2016
What challenges will the next U.S. president inherit?

Nearly eight years after President Obama took office promising to extend an “unclenched fist” to some traditional U.S. foes, he has fulfilled that promise in many ways. The United States and other powers brokered a deal that lifted sanctions on Iran in return for Tehran curtailing its nuclear program, while Cuba and the United States have renewed diplomatic relations. However, the resiliency of the Islamic State terrorist group has complicated Obama’s efforts to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The next president likely will inherit a long-term military campaign against Islamic extremism; a continuing refugee crisis emanating from the Middle East and an ever-isolated North Korea with growing nuclear capabilities. The presumptive presidential nominees, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, hold starkly different foreign policy positions.

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei casts the first ballot in elections for parliament in February. (Getty Images/Scott Peterson)   Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei casts the first ballot in elections for parliament in February. (Getty Images/Scott Peterson)

As a U.S.-backed coalition has squeezed the Islamic State in the Middle East, the militants have struck back with deadly attacks in Paris and Brussels. Footnote 1 Attackers in Paris killed 130 people in November 2015, while in March 2016 more than 30 people and three attackers were killed in three coordinated bombings in Brussels. Footnote 2 In May, investigators were trying to determine whether terrorists were responsible for the crash of an EgyptAir plane that killed 66 people. Footnote 3 Also that month, President Obama approved a drone strike that killed Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour in a remote part of Pakistan. The president said Mansour’s death was a “milestone” in bringing peace to Afghanistan. Footnote 4

Obama earlier had announced his intention to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, which had just conquered large swaths of Iraq and Syria, thanks in part to those countries’ power vacuums. To counter the terrorist group, Obama assembled a coalition of 66 countries across the Middle East, Europe and elsewhere. Footnote 5 As of June 1, the United States had carried out more than three-quarters of the coalition’s 12,685 airstrikes on Islamic State (also called ISIS) targets in Iraq and Syria, according to Pentagon data. Footnote 6

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