In a world boiling over with political and social crises, Team Obama will have little time to sit back and savour its triumph in the U.S. elections. While there is little doubt that the President used his first term to successfully steer the country into a new, post-Bush paradigm, every burning policy issue from continuing instability in West Asia to China’s relentless push for economic and political dominance, will call for a rapid but careful recalibration in the White House’s foreign policy calculus and a fresh approach where failure has been imminent.
An important, even critical, factor in this will be the choice of the next Secretary of State after Hillary Clinton who is planning her exit after clocking nearly a million air miles travelling to over 102 countries and laying the groundwork for President Obama’s first-term thrust towards multilateralism, regional cooperation, United Nations-focused sanctions and interventions, and, above all, the move away from war.
Will her successor, yet to be determined, prove as focused and nimble-footed to avoid getting mired in any single regional entanglement across the world?
Once he has put in place his new foreign policy team, the big shift in Mr. Obama’s global game will come from the fact that re-election is no longer an issue.
This is not to say he can ignore the fact that American voters continued to place their faith in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives, or that the popular vote was as much a win for Mr. Romney as it was for him. Paradigm-shifting foreign policy changes are unlikely. For example, a slight increase can be expected in backdoor diplomatic pressure on Israel, but the U.S. would be unlikely to back suggestions that the U.N. be the new platform for negotiations between the conflicted parties.
Similarly on Iran, Obama 2 may continue to remain unreceptive to arguments that a negotiated outcome on uranium enrichment — such as the one that involved Turkey and Brazil — may deliver success.
The one driving force behind American foreign policy over the next four years that will not change, however, is economics. There is wide support for the view that the loss of its position as the world’s economic superpower will constitute the greatest threat to the U.S’s national security. Mr. Obama can thus be expected to relentlessly keep his “boot to the throat” of nations that are perceived as lucrative markets for American investment and a source of job creation here.
India will lead that list of nations. Few eyebrows should be raised, then, when both soft diplomatic pressure and strident calls for greater market access in India accelerate over time.