By Amina Laouni
Newly reelected with a confortable margin, Barack Obama will soon be confronting some daunting domestic and foreign policy challenges with a big portion of his population getting increasingly impatient.
The voters, who gave him four more years in office, also elected a divided congress with Republicans keeping the House majority whereas Democrats retain control of the Senate.
The number one issue that he’ll have to tackle will be the so-called “fiscal cliff,” which is a term used to describe the scenario in which the current laws remain unchanged as of January 2, resulting in spending cuts and tax increases. The spending cuts would be the result of the Budget Control Act, a bi-partisan law passed by Congress and signed by the president, whose purpose was to control the deficit and effect a tax increase due to the expiration of the Bush tax cut. A combination of both would probably lead to another recession, say analysts.
Aside from the “fiscal cliff,” the new Obama administration will still be facing a high unemployment of 7.8% nationally and a 16 trillion debt – 30% of which is owned by foreigners. Also, the baby boomers are soon retiring which will cause medicare and social security costs to soar.
Immigration reform will probably be an easy issue for Obama. With the Republicans losing the latino vote by more than 40%, many conservative voices like Hannity and Krauthammer are calling for a compromise on this issue by giving a path to either citizenship or amnesty or both.
Although economic issues dominated the presidential race, foreign policy will get back to the forefront since the world keeps turning with its series of unresolved issues.
The most critical issue will be Iran and its pursuit of nuclear-weapon capabilities with no sign of tracking backwards. The crippling sanctions imposed on Tehran during the first term of the Obama administration had a meaningful impact on the Iranian economy that has seen its currency plunge by 40% and suffer from high inflation and a drop in oil exports from 9.8 billion barrels in 2011 to 2.9 a year later. Food and medications are getting scarce and more expensive.
What still remains to be seen is whether ordinary citizens in Iran will be blaming the Islamic leadership in Tehran for the situation or will they put all the blame on the West, and particularly the United States. And what if the Iranian economy crashes but the regime remains unharmed, still pursuing its nuclear program?
The Obama administration will probably have to reassess its position on Syria where the civil war is worsening and threatens to spill over into neighboring countries. The Obama administration has been acting behind the scenes, not officially arming rebel groups but supporting regional allies to pour weapons into their hands. President Obama resisted pressure from many sides to supply heavy weapons to the rebels, a non-homogenous, unorganized, and partly dangerous group linked to the jihadi movement. A victory by Assad will strengthen its Iranian ally, and allowing the situation as it is with a death toll mounting to 30,000 will be perceived as an Obama failure.
The United States has originally backed the Arab revolutions and has been supportive of their democratic transition. A second Obama administration will still be engaged in the Arab spring by providing more assistance to these countries to build their economy. As for Tunisia, the United States has been developing programs in support of the transition, training people, and investing in businesses. It has committed $190 million dollars in total to Tunisia. Such assistance is mainly aimed at expanding economic and employment opportunities throughout the country, especially for youth.
This assistance should, however, be calibrated based on these countries’ commitment to human, women, and minority rights and abidance by the rule-of-law. The threat that these countries transform into a religious theocracy is still looming though.
This 60-year conflict will not be solved, in my view, during the second term of the Obama administration. As long as Benjamin Netanyahu is in office and the Palestinians are divided between Fatah and Hamas, there is not much to be done. It is hard for Obama to succeed when Clinton has failed with flexible leadership on both sides. Unless the situation on the ground decides otherwise, this administration is not keen to solve the issue.
Amina Laouni is a member of the Tunisian American Young Professionals (TAYP), and an active member of the 2008 and 2012 Obama Campaigns in North Carolina