It’s over. After a year-long campaign costing $2.5-6 billion…President Barack Obama has won a second four-year term, with 49 states reporting their results on election night (Florida, for the second time in four presidential elections, did not). Obama now has a chance to define the United States’ role in the international system for years to come.
Second terms can often be productive times for US foreign policy, largely because presidents cannot seek a third. George W. Bush, for example, used his second four years in office to fix mistakes made during his first (his second-term team was busy).
Presidents in their second terms often apply old-fashioned American pragmatism to tough issues, which they often cannot do during their first terms, when reelection is their first priority. Obama’s infamous open-mike remark to Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev that he would have more flexibility after the election may have shocked some, but, for most foreign-policy experts, he was stating the obvious. The president’s challenge is to use his new freedom of action quickly, before the perception sets in (as it inevitably does) that he is a lame duck…
US policy in Asia requires a steady hand, and, in Obama, the US has just that. But it also needs effective communication that makes clear to the American people that the relationship with China truly is too big to fail and thus requires a long-term process of thoughtful engagement. Such messages must be issued more often by the president himself, and not only by officials several bureaucratic layers below. American policy in Asia in general, and toward China in particular, has enjoyed consistent bipartisan support. When a US president has bipartisan support on any issue, he should flaunt it.
There is no question that dealing with China, which is in an anxious mood of its own, has become increasingly difficult. But the way to address China’s internal tensions and emerging nationalism, and the resulting strains in its relationships with its neighbors, is not to put the region’s countries in the position of having to choose between China and the US. The right approach is to be constant, to stress long-term commitments, and to speak in a calm and measured way, understanding that good China policy is about relationships, not transactions. No one does that better than this president…
No president in recent decades has had a better temperament and a clearer vision for facing the world’s challenges than the one that Americans have just reelected. Obama now has an opportunity to put that talent to work in ways that he could not in his first term.
RTFA for the broader range of issues and question Christopher Hill includes in this article. Between his career in foreign service to the United States and his understanding of education and administration – his present gig at the University of Denver – he brings a boatload of common sense to one of America’s most anachronistic political venues.