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Incoming US president faces tough transition: -

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Incoming US president faces tough transition: analyst

The World Today - Friday, 31 October , 2008 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: There is little doubt that the economic downturn means that the winner of next week's
US election will be facing one of the most difficult transitions periods and first 100 days in
decades.

Usually the transition between the election and the inauguration of the new president in January is
a time for the candidates to select their team and recover from the campaign.

But comparisons are now being made with the far from relaxed transition to President Roosevelt's
administration during the Great Depression.

Earlier today I spoke about the challenges facing a new US president to the Lowy Institute's
Director of Global Issues, Dr Michael Fullilove, who is also a visiting fellow at the Brookings
Institution in Washington.

MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Look I think the FDR comparisons are fair because of the scale of the challenges
facing the next president. This is not as bad as the Great Depression but domestically, the next
president faces a credit crunch, a real estate slump, rising unemployment, internationally bloody
conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea, persistence of
terrorist networks, newly confident competitors, a financial collapse, a warming planet, a cooling
economy. So this is a very, very long to-do list for the next president.

ELEANOR HALL: Now we are hearing that both campaigns are preparing to get down to the job
immediately if they win. What clues are there so far as to how they'll differ in their approaches
to these immediate problems?

MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Well I think both of them are going to look to improve financial regulation.
Both of them are going to look to provide relief to home owners although it's different kinds of
relief.

ELEANOR HALL: And Senator Obama has said that he will have Republicans in his administration so
will the differences between a McCain administration or an Obama administration be less stark than
they appear at this stage?

MICHAEL FULLILOVE: No I think they are poles apart on so many domestic and foreign policy issues,
they are poles apart on their temperament, that merely the appointment of a token Republican to an
Obama administration or a token Democrat to a McCain administration is not going to camouflage
those differences.

ELEANOR HALL: Well let's look at foreign policy. What are the likely tests that could erupt and how
would the two candidates approach differently?

MICHAEL FULLILOVE: This is the most testing office in the world. Regardless of whether it's Barack
Obama or John McCain, they are going to find it a struggle. The big issues will be, the first
hundred days I think the big issues will probably be Iraq and Afghanistan and there they have,
particularly on Iraq, you have radically different views.

So McCain refuses to countenance a timed withdrawal and says it must take place only on the basis
of conditions on the ground, whereas Obama has talked about beginning a phased withdrawal over the
space of 16 months. So in terms of differences I think a very early difference would be that Obama
would bring in the military and bring in the foreign policy people, identify this as where he wants
to go to and start that debate on getting out of Iraq.

McCain has shown himself with the Georgia crisis, with the way he's run his campaign, with a number
of foreign policy issues recently that he is impulsive and he is intuitive and he is unpredictable
and bold. And this can be a positive for foreign policy but it also builds a major risk premium
into the decisions you take.

Obama on the other hand is level, disciplined, deliberate and more predictable. One risk that is I
know occupying the minds of the Obama foreign policy team is the possibility of the Iran issue
blowing up metaphorically or indeed literally. That is either a big development on the Iranian side
that really heats up the debate about how the United States will respond or alternatively Israel
coming to a new president Obama and saying that they believe that they have a viable strike and
they believe they have to take it and asking for him to green light it. I think that's a concern to
many on the Obama side.

I guess the other potential risks coming through the system, another terrorist strike is something
that obviously they think about, particularly in a transition period. We know that terrorists watch
the news like the rest of us. We know that these are very difficult times when even if the
transition team is very successful, it's going to take perhaps six or nine months until all the big
national security positions are filled in the administration. So it is a perfect time for
adversaries of America, whether they're state adversaries or non-state adversaries to test them.

ELEANOR HALL: Michael Fullilove, thanks very much for joining us.

MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Thanks Eleanor.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Lowy Institute's Dr Michael Fullilove in Washington.