The president's in-tray: six challenges facing Obama
Mitt Romney criticised President Obama for what he considered grievous foreign policy errors: failing to halt Iran’s progress towards a nuclear weapon; the continued reign of Bashar al Assad in Damascus; “putting light of day” between the US and its “closest ally” Israel; and an alleged cover-up of incompetence in the killing of four Americans in Benghazi on September 11th.
These issues will continue to pre-occupy Obama.
Obama has brought the UN Security Council and EU on board for the toughest sanctions ever against Iran. The sanctions are causing severe hardship in the Islamic Republic, and there were pre-election reports that Tehran might be willing to resume negotiations.
A deal would probably involve allowing Iran to enrich a limited amount of uranium to low levels for use in power reactors, in exchange for more openness to inspection.
As Romney pointed out, more than a year has passed since Obama demanded that Assad step down, to no effect. With Syrian fatalities in the tens of thousands, Washington’s non-intervention policy may not be tenable indefinitely.
Obama may have to rein in Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s eagerness to bomb Iranian facilities. His poor rapport with Netanyahu will make it more difficult for Obama to relaunch the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process”, which died during his first year in office. Palestine is one of the great neglected dossiers of Obama’s first term. His supporters, and the Europeans, hope he’ll do better now that the pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC is no longer a threat to his re-election.
The Benghazi attack symbolised the risk of chaos and anti-American extremism which threaten to erupt at any moment, not just in Libya but in Egypt, the Maghreb and Persian Gulf states as well. The Arab Spring was a mixed blessing for Obama. He welcomed the advent of democracy, but has no way of setting it on a secular, pro-American course.
LARA MARLOW, Washington Correspondent
As well as governing in a partisan capital where Republicans strengthened their majority in the House of Representatives, Obama also faces a divided country.
Polls showed Republicans relied heavily on older, working-class white voters in rural and suburban American. Democrats gathered a majority of votes among minorities, African-Americans, Hispanics and younger Americans.
The growing gulf between rich and poor is also a danger in creating social tensions among a marginalised section of population that feels it has fewer and fewer real avenues of opportunity available to it.
In his victory speech Obama insisted the country was not as divided as its politics suggested, repeating his 2008 exhortation that America was “more than a collection of red states and blue states”. During his second term, without the pressure of re-election, Obama will need to work even harder to fulfil his promise of becoming a bipartisan healer.
Tone will be everything. There will be a temptation to become bolder in both rhetoric and action on issues such as healthcare or tax reform.
But he will need to make the case for his policies in a way that doesn’t alienate further a section of the population that either distrusts him, or feels it has been left behind.
This will mean working with congressional leaders to create the conditions for a sound economy that can create opportunities for all.
All of this will require hands-on campaigning outside Washington’s beltway. He will have learned the lessons of the past four years that simply imposing change won’t work. He will need to lead a different White House that listens more and works in a meaningful way to reach out to all society, regardless of the colour of the state.
A long-term impact of the president’s re-election will be his ability to shape the supreme court. His court appointments over the next four years could rewrite the rules for everything from gun control to campaign finance and abortion rights.