State of the World: Obama’s Biggest Foreign Policy Challenges

Editor’s Note: In a wide-ranging interview with

U.S.News & World Report

, Robert Kagan discusses the possible direction of U.S. foreign policy during the second Obama administration, and warns that the President’s agenda will be set by the other actors in the international system. Read an excerpt below.

U.S.News & World Report: What is the most imminent challenge of Obama’s second term?

Robert Kagan: Syria is probably the thing that’s going to be front and center. He obviously is trying to avoid any deeper involvement, but I think it’s going to be very difficult to do so as things get worse in Syria and the price of not doing anything gets higher. Coming close on the heels of that is going to be Iran developing a [nuclear] capability.

U.S.News & World Report: How urgent is the issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

Kagan: It’s very urgent. I think the administration understands that they need to find some answer either diplomatically or otherwise. Secretary [of State John] Kerry said the clock is ticking, and I think that means it’s ticking this year.

U.S.News & World Report: Should there be direct contact with the Iranian government?

Kagan: They should make clear that Iranians need to take seriously that the United States is willing to have a diplomatic settlement of this problem. If not, [Iran] ought to take very seriously the statements that the president and secretary of state have made about preventing them from having a nuclear weapon.

U.S.News & World Report: What changes should be made in global economic policy?

Kagan: One major goal should be to begin negotiating a free trade agreement with Europe, to broaden the free trade agreements in Latin America in the Western Hemisphere, and move ahead with the trans-Pacific partnership, which is free trade agreements in Asia.

U.S.News & World Report: How has the fiscal crisis affected the American reputation abroad?

Kagan: I do think that an inability to get some control of our fiscal difficulties will cause people around the world to worry whether that will limit our ability to act in the international system.

Read the full interview »