WASHINGTON - Having defeated Republican Mitt Romney at home,
Barack Obama has no shortage of adversaries to grapple with abroad, including
the governments of Iran, Syria and possibly China.
president's re-election ensures continuity in US foreign policy but leaves
open questions such as whether diplomacy can constrain Iran's nuclear program or
whether Israel or the United States might resort to air strikes.
it obvious whether Obama will be able to sustain his refusal so far to try to
tip the scales in Syria's civil war by allowing US arms to flow to the rebels
seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
If events permit, US
foreign policy analysts said Obama will continue his "pivot" to Asia, seeking to
reorient US policy to take advantage of the projected growth in such nations
as China and India and gradually withdraw from the Middle East.
both Iran, which the United States and its allies suspect of developing nuclear
weapons, and Syria, where a car bomb killed and wounded dozens in the capital,
Damascus, on Tuesday, will demand attention.
2013: Decisive on Iran?
Martin Indyk, vice president of foreign policy studies at the Brookings
Institution think tank, said 2013 could be a decisive year on Iran and suggested
Obama's wider commitment to nonproliferation could produce a "focused and
"It's going to be very high on the agenda," Indyk
said. "Preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons is a critical imperative for
bolstering the nonproliferation regime." Iran denies US accusations that it
seeks to develop nuclear weapons under cover of its civilian atomic program,
saying its program is for peaceful uses such as generating electricity and
producing medical isotopes.
Talks between the major powers and Iran on a
diplomatic solution are expected to resume - possibly as early as this month -
but it is by no means clear whether one can be fashioned under which Iran might
rein in its program.
In an effort to drive Iran to compromise, the United
States and the European Union have gone for the jugular - Iran's oil exports -
over the last year.
The United States has targeted foreign banks that
deal with Iran's central bank, the clearing house for its oil sales, and the
European Union has ceased importing Iranian crude entirely.
States and Israel, which regards a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its
existence, have also hinted at the possibility of military strikes against
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September,
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that a decision on force
could come by next spring.
Tehran's UN mission responded by saying Iran
has the means and right to retaliate with full force against any
Israel, presumed to be the region's only nuclear power, has twice
destroyed sites it feared could be used to develop atomic weapons - in 1981 in
Iraq and in 2007 in Syria.
Obama has said the United States will "do what
we must" to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and has repeatedly said
that all options are on the table - code for the possibility of using
James Dobbins, director of the RAND International Security and
Defense Policy Center, said he thought Obama might be forced by events to
intervene to some degree in Syria, possibly by supplying arms, but was unlikely
to strike Iran.
"I don't think it's viable to stand aside if Syria gets
worse and unless the Iranians are stupid enough to give us a better rationale
for an unprovoked attack, I don't think the administration would do it," Dobbins
Analysts said that the overarching challenge for Obama will be to
try to shape the international environment to the United States' advantage at a
time when the country is deeply in debt, other powers are rising and it faces
transnational threats such as terrorism, cyber attacks and global
"My read of Obama is that he, essentially, wants to turn away
from the Middle East and focus on Asia," said Indyk, saying Obama was unlikely
to make a fresh run at Israeli-Palestinian peace, nor to make great efforts to
shape the outcome in Syria or to deeply engage Islamist governments in Egypt and
"I just don't see those things as high on his agenda versus
building a relationship with China, promoting India's rise in Asia and seeking
the opportunities that lie in that region of the world," he said.
having referred to China as "both an adversary but also a potential partner," in
his final debate with Romney, Obama's prime focus is likely to be to try to find
ways to cooperate with, rather than confront, China.
increasingly think of ourselves as a Pacific nation rather than an Atlantic
nation," said Jon Alterman, who holds the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global
Security and Geostrategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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