Willis Sparks– Willis Sparks is a Global Macro analyst at the political risk consulting firm Eurasia Group. The views expressed are his own. –

Few things in life amused my dad more than a good karate movie. I once asked what he found so funny about Bruce Lee’s jaw-dropping display of poise and power. “Nice of the bad guys to attack him one at a time,” he said. In the real world, threats don’t arrive single-file, like jets lining up for takeoff.

President Barack Obama’s toughest foreign-policy challenge will be in managing the sheer number of complex problems he’s inherited and their refusal to arrive in orderly fashion. In addition, the still-metastasizing global financial crisis will exacerbate several of these problems, by depriving a number of governments of the funding they need to maintain social stability and to meet internal and external threats to their security.


There is clearly a risk of collision at the intersection of Afghanistan and Pakistan, both of them plagued with floundering elected governments and deteriorating security environments. In Afghanistan, once Obama keeps his promise to provide thousands more U.S. troops, he must decide whether his team can afford to work around President Hamid Karzai (who may win reelection in August) and more directly engage tribal leaders and willing members of the Taliban to restore stability.

But Afghanistan’s security continues to depend on the ability of U.S. forces to stem the flow of militants and supplies into the country from tribal areas in Pakistan. Aware that Pakistan’s armed forces are neither reliably willing nor able to help, the Obama team must find a way to neutralize Pakistani militants without arousing broad public anger across the country and destabilizing its cash-strapped government.