Obama’s second term: He must balance economics with international issues

David T Jones

It is easy to predict the future.

It is considerably harder to predict it correctly.

Bear in mind the quote attributed to former British PM Harold Macmillan regarding what will blow governments off course: "Events, dear boy, events." Or "black swan" happenings of the who-knew-that-was coming nature. The most obvious was al Qaeda's 9/11 attack.

Essentially, every second term president is a lame duck from election day forward. And there is no second act for Obama: He is now an old face with "hope and change" long evaporated. Nor can one expect him to be chastened by victory — he is surrounded by rub-their-noses-in-it partisans and epitomizes an existential arrogance.

The Fiscal Cliff. Doomsayers delight in complex, virtually inexplicable issues with great labels (ie: Global Warming). If immediate action is not taken, unspeakable horrors will eventuate. Hence, the "fiscal cliff."

This essentially technical problem has two components: (a) increasing the debt limit the US government can incur; and (b) addressing the combination of tax increases and budget cuts that will occur automatically if no additional action is taken.

Failure to raise the debt ceiling has potential international consequences if, in the worst case, the government defaults on financial obligations. Most believe the reindeer games played a year ago when Republicans attempted to leverage this issue into domestic financial concessions will not be replayed. Instead, focus will be on the effort to agree on taxes and expenditures.

Thus, one can foresee Republicans girding for another electoral battle in 2014 with a final chance to win control of the senate when the Democrats again have more seats at risk than Republicans. Each will have more than enough material to blame opponents for any economic outcome.

Internationally: Slim pickings. Obama cannot expect a second Nobel Peace Prize based on blithe expectations and a stirring speech.

"Lead from behind" tactics to eliminate Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi resulted, indirectly, in the catastrophe in Benghazi. The U.S. had no forces available to do more than watch people die in real time when terrorists attacked the CIA station after burning the consulate. The Arab Spring has germinated a crop of weeds with no expectations we will employ military Roundup to eliminate them.

The Israeli-Palestine deadlock appears even more locked. The suggestion of appointing former President Clinton as chief negotiator is lead-balloon feckless. In 1999, Clinton worked to defeat Benjamin Netanyahu and elect Ehud Barak as prime minister of Israel. Netanyahu hasn't forgotten — and his "no love lost" relations with Obama won't help. And what will Obama do if Netanyahu, after re-election in January, decides to take out Iranian nuclear facilities? Wring his hands harder?

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Obama has claimed successes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, but the fragility is more evident than success. Ultimately, we may only have assured that Afghanistan will never again be a state sponsor of terrorism and Iraq will never have weapons of mass destruction.

And just what did Obama mean by "flexibility" in dealing with Russian President Putin?

But Canada is not in the line of fire. The Keystone pipeline should be approved now that Obama doesn't need environmental allies for election funding and get-out-the-vote activism.

David T. Jones is a retired State Department Senior Foreign Service Career Officer and a frequent contributor to American Diplomacy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving for the Army Chief of Staff. He is co-author of Uneasy Neighbor(u)rs, a study of American-Canadian bilateral concerns and has published several hundred articles, columns, and reviews on U.S. - Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy.