9 Foreign Policy Priorities For Obama's Second Term


Editor's Note: The final part of this series evaluating the weak points in Barack Obama's foreign policy. In this article, the author suggests what President Obama's priorities should be in his second term.

President Obama will win a second term, and given that he will not be constrained by electoral concerns, he can be braver in his foreign policy and create some positive change in the world, or so we can hope.

Here are what Obama's priorities should be in his second term in office:

9. Government and finance.

Raising the debt ceiling can potentially cripple the American economy, and if the current debt trends continue , the system will break. So, the president’s priority for the second term should be to continue to bring the country back from the brink of financial doom and work internationally to stop the creation of bubbles that threaten the viability of the entire global economy. Along with this, Obama must determine how to deal with the appointment of controversial bankers into executive positions, such as Mario Draghi and Mario Monti: two Goldman Sachs figures in the company that helped hide Greece’s debt problems.

8. Dollar signs.

Foreign policy is expensive, and with reduced budgets, Washington must delineate clear priorities. China and Russia should be the most important foreign policy commitments for Obama. But, President Obama must also solidify allies in the Pacific, strengthen commitments in the MENA region,and  strategically re-focus on South America.

7. Iran.

The establishment of official diplomatic relations is key for alleviating the pressures surrounding the country’s nuclear program, regardless of the protests that will come in result of it. In turn, Teheran can and must do more to gain the trust of the international community. An overture from Washington, not withstanding the pointless hurt pride from 1979, would be a strong incentive to get out of Kindergarten and put in place some grown-up diplomacy on both sides. The dialogue with Iran should be inside the international system, not outside of it.

6. China.

Beijing rising ability to project power worldwide – political, military and economic – will increasingly put America’s strategic interests in a smaller box, but China will not be able to displace America from its position in the world in any conceivable way this century. Using the important economic co-dependence between the two countries, Obama should put in place an irreversible trend for the deepening of cooperation between the two countries. Beijing will not take the lead, but Washington can take steps that will slowly, but surely, gain China’s trust long-term.

5. Russia.

With Vladimir Putin back in the Kremlin, Russian foreign policy will assume a return to its more assertive character of the 2000s. However, with the widespread discontent against Putin among the Russian public, he might be more careful in what he does and says internationally to maintain public support – the nationalist sentiment is no longer a valid form of currency with voters. Obama should focus on finding a way to cooperate on ballistic missile defence, Iran and integrate Russia further with NATO, and give Moscow much needed security guarantees about the aims of the alliance. Put in short – a tit-for-tat approach on building trust in the context of the maximum possible transparency.

4. Israel.

Illegal settlements, undeclared nuclear weapons, lack of political creativity and self-imposed isolation continue to be persistent international problems for Washington’s main Mideast ally. It is not likely that any of them will get resolved in Obama’s second term, but putting in place new conditions on the fundamental relationship (military and financial aid), might push Netanyahu to change his policies – or step down to show support for a government that is actually concerned with Israel’s welfare. Conversely, the same position must be taken with the main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah and their subgroups, to prevent their destabilizing actions as well (e.g. raining rockets into Israel).

3. South America.

Obama’s ongoing trip to Cartagena in a regional summit of the Americas might be a good start at refreshing Washington’s controversial legacy in Latin America, if it is done with some foresight. Brazil, an increasingly global player, will be a vital regional player – a competitor, but also a partner to Washington along the same conceptual lines as China. It should be engaged as constructively as possible for the benefit of the entire hemisphere. Less important geopolitically, but far more so politically, Obama should end the embargo on Cuba and normalize relations – that would stop Washington’s terrible practice of not talking to countries that refuse to dance to its whistle – a la Iran.

2. Africa.

A low priority since 1993, the piracy mission off Somalia is Washington’s only major engagement on the continent. With a principled stance against the problems occurring in Darfur, between the two Sudans, Al-Shabab, the Congo, West Africa, and Zimbabwe, among others – Obama should consider potential political assistance to the most dire of conflicts: namely, Sudan Sudan relations, Somalia and Congo.

1. Europe.

The commitment to defend Europe will wane further in 2012, despite its principled reinstatement, which we will hear again in Chicago next month, along with the banal remark that Europe must take care of its own defence needs, amid slashed budgets and continued Euro trouble. The Asia pivot will also put Europe further down the priorities list. Obama should put more pressure on Europe to re-organize its defence capacities to push further integration to cut costs and improve capabilities. In short, NATO’s Smart Defence must be put on the fast track.Despite its troubles, the world’s wealthiest, largest and integrated market can take care of its defence needs.

Overall, Obama’s second term will probably include more problems than the first, but the president is on the right track with a foreign policy based on diplomacy and multilateralism rather than the unilateralism of the Bush years. The commitments outlined above will not be solved in their entirety by a long shot. However, the most pressing among them – Iran and Israel, or China – can be approached constructively without escalating tensions or resorting to war. Obama can leave America’s international position in a much better shape than he received it in, and with a basis onto which the next president, if smart enough, can build on. 

I think a B- is appropriate.