Late Tuesday night, the world learned that President Barack Obama would remain as the President of the United States for the next four years. Obama’s reelection means that he can pick up where he left off in the Middle East. His administration had swept some critical foreign policy issues under the rug before the election in order to minimize the impact difficult foreign policy decisions would have on his chances for reelection. One example of this delay tactic was when President Obama met with then-President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia last March and promised more “flexibility” to Russia after the election regarding a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Now that he has been reelected to office, Obama will fully be able to address some of the most pressing issues in the foreign policy realm.
One of these issues that had been swept under the rug, but one that Obama will most assuredly address, is the conflict between Israel and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program. Prior to the election, Netanyahu demanded the support from the United States to draw a “red line” against Iran. However, Netanyahu was unable to gain as a strong of a backing from the United States as he had hoped for. Netanyahu knew that his strong rhetoric would place Obama in a tough position prior to the election. Also, because Netanyahu supported Governor Romney’s bid for the presidency, he may have been trying to pin the President as weak and soft towards Iran’s nuclear program. However, Obama is back and has renewed energy and support from the American people to tackle foreign policy issues as he sees fit.
The question that remains to be answered is what course of action the United States will take towards the Iranian problem. One avenue to address the issue is diplomatic talks with Tehran. This option is the most attractive one to the Obama administration that does, at all cost, not want to enter into another war in the Middle East. During Obama’s victory speech in Chicago early Wednesday morning, he declared that “a decade of war is ending.” This line solicited a roaring applause from the crowd, a clear sign that the American people are also opposed to sending more American troops to the region. However, Netanyahu and his government are concerned that this approach is too soft towards the Iranians. As previously mentioned, Israel would like the United States to follow suit in the “red line” approach. But, Obama has even less incentive to succumb to pressure from Jerusalem and powerful pro-Israel lobbying groups in Washington because he has recently been freed from stressful electoral concerns.
(Skip to 15:00 to hear Obama’s comment, “a decade of war is ending.”)
Another topic of concern for the Israelis is how Obama will approach the Israel-Palestine conflict. Next month, the Palestinian Authority is likely to petition for non-state status in the United Nations. The last time that this petition was attempted, the United States supported Israel in opposition to this request and they succeeded in defeating it. If this status is granted, then the United States Congress will be forced to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations. This outcome is not a desirable one for the President because the United States is one of the main supporters and funders of the United Nations. Hopefully, it will motivate him to reestablish peace talks between Palestine and Israel to prevent this vote from coming to the floor of the United Nations. How this conflict will be settled is another issue that remains to be addressed in the coming months and years.
The presidential election has given the world as many new questions as answers. Like many presidents who are elected for a second term, Obama will try to impact the rest of the world as much as he has done so with domestic policy in the United States such as health care reform. Many presidents seek to create a prestigious statesman’s legacy. Obama has plenty of opportunities to leave his mark in this world whether in solving the Israel-Palestine conflict, nullifying the Iranian nuclear threat, fostering a strong relation with the new world super power of China, or cooperating with Russia to stamp out terrorism and stop nuclear proliferation. What do you think will be the principal focus of Obama’s foreign policy agenda? Do you think he will have greater success internationally in his second term than he did in his first term? What recommendations would you give Obama as he refocuses his goals?