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Foreign Policy Issues Awaiting Obama In His Second Term

Actually . . . more of the same

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Foreign Policy Issues Awaiting Obama In His Second Term

Presidient Obama has retained the Oval Office. What's next for his foreign policy?

Photo by Pete Souza/White House
Updated November 08, 2012

Late November 6, 2012, Barack Obama won re-election as President of the United States. While his immediate concerns are about the domestic economy, there are a host of foreign policy issues he will have to consider as he begins a second term.

Actually, the issues look pretty much the same as before. Nevertheless, here are a few of them.

Syria's Civil War

Syria fell into civil war in spring 2011 as opponents of dictator Bashar al-Assad began a movement to oust him from power. The rebellion began as part of "Arab Spring." Assad violently retaliated, and estimates of deaths in the war now reach 30,000.

Obama long ago called for Assad to step aside. The U.S. has also led coalition of nations implementing tight trade sanctions against Syria, however Russia and China have remained intransigent in effectively helping end the war. Plus, the U.S. is working with Syrians to quietly coordinate the rebellion, and negotiations to end the violence are proceeding in Doha, Qatar.

A U.S./NATO-led intervention in Syria, similar to that in Libya, seems unlikely given Syrian relations with Russia and China. Nevertheless, the mounting death toll, calls for some vigorous U.S. diplomatic action.

Nuclear Iran

Throughout 2012, Iran has reportedly been continuing development on nuclear weapons. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly called for Obama to set "redlines" and "deadlines" against Iran -- essentially points in that nuclear program that would trigger U.S. intervention. Obama has resisted, promising that Iran will not achieve nuclear weapons.

Obama must somehow manage to disrupt the Iranian nuclear program, and at the same time convince Israel and the rest of the Middle East that they are safe as negotiations continue.

The Fiscal Cliff

This is one is not specifically foreign policy related, and yet it is. December 31, 2012, marks the so called U.S. financial "fiscal cliff." If Obama and Congress don't reach some compromise on spending, the federal deficit, and the debt ceiling, then across-the-board sequestrations (a fancy word for mandatory budget reductions) will hit every federal bureau, including the State Department and Pentagon. Don't even mention that the U.S. credit rating will probably get another downgrade, similar to what happened in the summer 2011 debt-ceiling crisis.

Why is this foreign policy? A sound economy instills foreign confidence; a tanking economy does not. The U.S. needs the foundation of a healing economy to further its foreign policy aims, and to insure that USAID -- the foreign aid arm of the State Department -- does not run short.

Asia Pivot

In November 2011, Obama began a strategic pivot to strengthen the U.S. position and strength in the Asia Pacific region. That came after ten years focusing on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama's intention is in part commercial, trying to counter Chinese commercial ascendancy by reaffirming its relations with old allies like Japan and Australia. It also puts the U.S. in a better position to counter any North Korean saber rattling, as well as any channel crisis that might ensue between Japan and China.

Israel and Palestine

This is perennial. Even though Obama said in 2011 that Israel and Palestine should look toward the creation of a Palestinian state along pre-1967 war borders "with mutually agreed swaps," Obama has stridently defended Israel against the creation of Palestinian borders without Israel's okay. His position is nothing more or less than what presidents back to Nixon have said. That backing, plus American installation of the Iron Shield missile defense system in Israel, help Obama's diplomacy as he proceeds with Iran.

Other Concerns

  • Rising anti-American sentiment in the Middle East in the wake of Arab Spring.
  • Fallout from the raid on the Benghazi, Libya, consulate on September 11, 2012, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens died. Revelations that consulate activities and security were under the control of the CIA make it look as if the White House, State Department, and other agencies were out of sync with each other. Obama avoided serious questioning over the incident during the election, but the story is not over.
  • Stability in Afghanistan. The U.S. is leaving Afghanistan by end of 2013. The U.S. wants to make sure that Afghan security forces can fill the vacuum when American troops leave, and the critical Afghan-Pakistan-Indian region needs to remain secure.
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