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The Monitor's View

Look outward, Obama

The president’s domestic agenda may consist of making compromises with Republicans. But overseas he is freer to act. And there’s much that needs his attention.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / November 8, 2012

A US Marine police advisory team eats pomegranate fruits while resting at a police substation in Helmand Province in southwestern Afghanistan Nov. 8. President Obama has pledged to remove most US troops from the country by the end of 2014.

Erik De Castro/Reuters

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The just-concluded presidential election was fought over jobs and the economy. Foreign policy was largely an afterthought.

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Overall, the differences on foreign policy between the two US political parties have not been nearly so sharp as the domestic divide, though some Republicans continue to be disturbed by the Obama administration’s response to the murder of four Americans, including US Ambassador Christopher Stevens, in Benghazi, Libya, Sept. 11.

President Obama may well have a freer hand on foreign policy than he will with the GOP-led House on domestic issues. If this proves true, where is his attention needed most?

RELATED: The five most urgent national security issues the next president will face

First, a caveat. An unexpected event could always relegate the president’s best-laid plans to the dustbin, just as George W. Bush’s first term was instantly and profoundly shaped by the 9/11 attacks. Another terrorist assault on the United States would immediately dominate any president’s agenda.

But assuming no sudden crisis arises, here are some of what should be Mr. Obama’s top priorities:

Replace your secretary of State. Hillary Rodham Clinton has announced that she would like to leave her post early next year. Appointing someone of equal stature and ability will be an important goal. Many good candidates look to be available. Several are Republicans and could serve to reinforce a commitment to bipartisanship on behalf of the Obama administration. Those worthy of serious consideration include retired Gen. Colin Powell, former China Ambassador and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., and former Sen. Richard Lugar.

Within his own party, the president should consider calling on Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, who has traveled extensively overseas as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. UN Ambassador Susan Rice would seem to be a logical candidate, but her fumbled explanation of the attack on the US Consulate in Libya might cause problems at a Senate confirmation hearing.

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