Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Get Rolling on Foreign Policy Our Re-Elected President First Must Put in Place a New Team

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Get Rolling on Foreign Policy Our Re-Elected President First Must Put in Place a New Team

Article excerpt

President Barack Obama is now in a strong position to gain some yards for the United States in foreign policy.

Until Tuesday he operated under two major constraints. The first was that nobody wanted to cut a deal with a president who might have been out of office in January. President Bill Clinton tried to pursue what turned out to be some of his more perishable deal- making in the Middle East in 2000, the last year of his term. Mr. Obama is now going to be around for the next four years, long enough to start and sustain serious policy enterprises.

The second constraint is that the secretaries of state and defense and the national security adviser basically carry out the foreign policies of the president, and the personal aspects of diplomacy, in particular, depend to an important degree on the people occupying those key positions. Little is more durable in such matters than agreements arrived at in small meetings, sealed with a handshake or a hug.

Top U.S. leaders in foreign policy likely to leave at the start of the second Obama administration include Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and possibly National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon. Not to mention the sudden departure of CIA Director David H. Petraeus.

Unless Mr. Obama wants to take on all these jobs himself, an extremely unlikely option given the domestic problems he faces even before he pardons the Thanksgiving turkey, he will have to wait until he fills at least some of these key slots before he can launch second-term foreign policy initiatives.

There is plenty to do now that pre-election constraints have been removed.

First of all, he won big and he is now free of the political threat that Republicans always pose to Democrats in the field of national security -- the charge that they are "soft on defense." He is free of the political threat that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posed in courting the Republican vote and supporting Mitt Romney -- that the American Jewish vote would go against him. Jewish- Americans voted 70 percent for Mr. Obama, in keeping with their custom of voting for Democrats.

He doesn't have to worry now that Republicans will exaggerate the economic, political and military threat that China presents and turn it into votes against him. Remember the "Who lost China?" furor employed by Republicans in the 1950s to go after President Harry Truman and the Democrats? Mr. Obama can now employ the "flexibility" toward Russia that Republicans tried to use against him and improve relations with the bear, particularly when it comes to nuclear disarmament.

On a critical domestic as well as foreign issue -- immigration -- the president is now free to try to update policy, in the process improving always-sensitive U. …

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