DENVER – It’s over. After a year-long campaign costing $2.5-6 billion (estimates vary widely), 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.
Obama’s first foreign excursion after the election will be to Laos to attend the East Asian summit, a trip that is perceived as part of his administration’s “pivot” to Asia. He will also visit Myanmar (Burma) in an effort to lend support to that struggling country’s extraordinary changes and encourage further progress.