Hillary Clinton has her work cut out for her.
President-elect Obama's choice to be America's next top diplomat will inherit a foreign policy minefield, including two wars in the Middle East, a floundering Israeli-Palestinian peace process, deteriorated relations with Russia, a China ascending toward hegemony, a Pakistan descending into violence, a tenuous negotiation with North Korea, an almost-nuclear Iran and tension between Washington and several Latin American capitals.
But her efforts will also likely be complicated by her past rivalry with Obama. Both the media and foreign governments are likely to scrutinize her every word for signs of substantive or tonal differences with the president.
If Clinton is perceived as being on a different page than her boss, it may complicate her efforts to advance the administration's foreign policy agenda.
The Bush administration engaged in a furious push in the past year to complete its foreign policy objectives before leaving office. But many will fall to the Obama administration and will top Clinton's to-do list from day one.
The Bush administration has been defined more by the wars it started in Iraq and Afghanistan than by any other foreign policy initiative. The administration recently negotiated a deal with the Iraqi government that sets a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal by the end of 2011.
It will now fall to Clinton and the rest of President-elect Obama's national security team to oversee the challenge of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, one of Obama's central campaign promises, while continuing work to build the capacity of Iraq's government and security forces.
In Afghanistan, the Bush administration is engaged in an 11th-hour policy review that will attempt to forge a new strategy to fight al Qaeda and a resurgent Taliban that operates along the lawless border with Pakistan. Its intention to boost resources there have been hampered by the demands of the Iraq war and a Pakistani government that has been reluctant to cooperate in efforts to go after the militants on its soil.
During the campaign, Obama promised to pursue terrorists wherever they hide, and said he would not hesitate to attack them inside Pakistan. The Bush administration has recently begun to implement a similar policy. But it has been met by opposition from the Pakistani government and will require a delicate diplomatic hand if Obama plans to continue the strategy in his administration.
In November 2007, President Bush hosted a major summit to jump start a stalled Mideast peace process. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice personally took the lead in brokering talks between both sides, making eight trips to the region in 2008, including one with Bush. Despite her efforts, however, she will leave office without a peace deal after an Israeli political crisis sidetracked the talks. Though she and Bush will become the latest American leaders who tried, and ultimately failed, to bring lasting peace to the Holy Land, the Bush administration will leave in place a negotiating framework that did not exist a year ago.
Obama pledged to focus on advancing the peace talks, but any immediate progress will have to wait until Israel chooses its next prime minister in 2009.