It may seem ironic after an election that was all about the domestic economy--exit polls indicated that few voters had Iraq or Afghanistan foremost in their minds when they went to the polls--but President Obama may be best served in the next two years by turning more attention abroad. After all, there is little of significance that he will be able to accomplish domestically, given congress. And to do things at home usually involves spending money, which is not popular at the moment.
In the international arena, the president has much more freedom of movement, relatively speaking--so much so that political scientists and presidential historians have argued that there are in effect "two presidencies," one for domestic affairs and one for foreign affairs. Being commander-in-chief helps in the latter case, as does the need to act more quickly than congress typically can, and the benefit of being able to speak with a single voice.
But now may be an especially opportune time for such an effort, because absent a new war, much of what the president might accomplish would not require a lot of additional spending. And he still has a large store of political capital abroad. If he can invest himself personally and show some progress on conflicts and threats beyond the middle east, and forge some understandings in Asia that benefit the U.S. (and the economy turns around enough that the domestic policies of the past two years start to appear wiser and better-timed), then he could generate a body of work he can stand firmly beside in 2012.
Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.
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