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For Which It Stands: Worldview

Hillary Clinton's confirmation shifts focus back to America's many foreign policy challenges.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is officially sworn in as the United States 67th secretary of state by Judge Kathleen Oberly, Associate Judge, District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Washington on Jan. 21, 2009. (Frank Fey/U.S. Senate Photographic Studio/Reuters)

As the U.S. Senate voiced its approval of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state on Wednesday, some attention shifted back to the foreign policy agenda of President Barack Obama's fledgling administration. 

A day earlier, the scene at the Presidential Inauguration cannot fail to have impressed, and in some cases, distressed those watching proceedings from foreign ministries and presidential palaces around the world. An estimated one million Americans of all walks of national life, many with their children, many having taken one of their notoriously scarce vacation days and risking their infamously expensive-to-maintain health against the chill of a winter's day, gathered to witness the investiture of an American president like none other.

Domestically, the hopes and expectations riding on Obama's stewardship have had a three-month fermentation period. Even still, Chateau Obama, vintage January 2009, is bound to be a bit raw now that it's been uncorked. Even the most experienced of politicians, taking office at the best of economic and geopolitical times, finds the first months – even years – something of a struggle.

The professional government — the permanent bureaucracy which endures regardless of the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – has had a busy three months. In Washington and across the United States, those not seeking direct employment from the new administration have spent a good deal of energy arguing that their particular cause — from family farms to inner city schools, medical research to climate change — is the fastest, greasiest skid down which to pour the billions of dollars in federal stimulus spending into the American economy. State governors, particularly among Democrats whose states plumped for Obama in November, have baked into their FY10 spending plans expected windfalls from the stimulus spending. Even the porn industry, in the form of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, is pleading its case.

Still, not everything costs money, and many of the expectations directed at Obama abroad hinge more on policy change rather than loose change from the U.S. Treasury. Here's a short tour of the horizon focusing on what other major international actors may be wishing or hoping for in the coming few months.

China: Stimulus is what China wants to see. While the very image of a minority elected to run the world's most powerful nation must bring discomfort to the ruling Communist Party, the economy is paramount in this relationship. China's ethnic Han minority runs the show in the world's most populous nation, and ethnic minorities often loom as problems (see: Tibet, Xinjaing) rather than assets.

Nonetheless, China and America are in a moment of classic geopolitical codependence; China's output needs American buyers, and American buyers need China to continue investing its profits in U.S. government bonds and other assets to finance the yawning deficits Washington has built up since the 1980s. China, then, expects stimulus — and lots of it. Obama appears ready to deliver.

Europe: The European Union, in nearly as dire economic straits as the U.S., would like to see a host of small changes in American policy. Fearful of being left out of the post-crash reordering of international financial institutions — where Europe stands to loose even more clout at places like the IMF than Washington — the EU wants pride of place at upcoming "Bretton Woods" style conferences, the next of which is slated for April.

Politically, Europe would like to see the United States get out of Iraq, an uncomfortable issue for the trans-Atlantic relationship, and wind down the commitment to Afghanistan, where NATO has proven unable to sustain a serious military expedition and Europe sees a military solution as being out of reach anyway.

Two further issues beckon: Europe hopes the Obama team will be more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, and has hinted for several years now at the need to open some dialogue with Hamas if a solution is ever to be had there. And the Bush administration's plans to build a defensive missile shield based in Poland (with radars in the Czech Republic) irritates Russia, source of much of southern Europe's natural gas supplies. Though Washington has said the purpose of the shield is to protect Europe (including U.S. troops based there) from, say, an Iranian missile threat, European leaders generally see no EU dog