7
Dec

Barack Obama’s foreign-policy goal in his second term: to avoid costly entanglements

By cynical tradition “abroad” is where American presidents go to seek a legacy, after their domestic agendas have stalled. This is especially true of second-term presidents. As they lose momentum at home, the temptation is to head overseas in search of crises that only American clout can resolve.

At the outset of his second term, Barack Obama seems to be planning the opposite approach. Mr Obama and his team believe that his outstanding task is to secure a domestic legacy. Their fear is that foreign entanglements may threaten that goal. It may help that he secured something of a global legacy on the day he was elected four years ago amid worldwide adulation, peaking with a Nobel peace prize awarded after less than a year in office, essentially for not being George W. Bush.

On the 2012 campaign trail, Mr Obama earned some of his warmest applause when he vowed to bring troops back from Afghanistan, ending more than a decade of war-fighting that has cost thousands of American lives and more than a trillion dollars. Time for nation-building “right here at home”, he constantly declared, to cheers. In a newspaper essay on November 23rd Mr Obama’s former White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, rammed the point home. Democrats need to make America globally competitive, wrote Mr Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago. Whether it means fixing failing schools, potholed roads, snail-like internet networks or a broken immigration system, the second-term mission must be to “come home and rebuild America”.

Yet the world keeps calling. From Gaza to Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, the disputed waters around China or even the euro zone, foreign crises threaten to sidetrack Mr Obama. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on December 1, 2012 (from the Print Edition).

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