Obama's new foreign-policy and security team: Could Colin Powell be on it?
With President Obama likely to begin his second term with a sharp domestic focus, he’ll need a trusted foreign-policy and security team to handle sensitive, and pressing, global challenges.
Barack Obama’s reelection was barely sealed before some international voices began trumpeting how the president’s victory would mean a renewed American focus on foreign-policy issues that have languished during the campaign.Skip to next paragraph
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President Obama could now revive the search for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, international Middle East envoy Tony Blair said. The United States will be bolder now in pressing for a resolution of Syria’s deadly and dangerous civil war, some US allies, including Turkish officials, predicted.
Have these foreign friends heard of the “fiscal cliff”?
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Obama will no doubt be looking broadly to bolster his legacy, and that will include his stewardship of America’s role in the world. But after an election in which – according to exit polls – foreign policy barely registered as a priority and a campaign in which Obama spoke frequently of a need for “nation-building here at home,” it seems likely that domestic issues such as America’s fiscal health, job creation, taxation, and even immigration reform will dominate the president’s attention.
“The president laid out his agenda in his victory speech, when he talked about priorities like continuing the economic recovery, avoiding the fiscal cliff, and getting people back to work; so he made it clear he’ll be investing his political capital in those kinds of domestic battles,” says Mark Siegel, a former deputy assistant to the president in the Carter White House who is now a partner at Locke Lord Strategies in Washington.
“I just don’t see him pushing any new initiative in terms of Middle East peace, not right away,” he adds. “And he certainly won’t be launching any kind of military involvement in Syria or Iran.”
Some presidents' second terms have had a sharper foreign policy tilt than their first, but the dense domestic agenda suggests that Obama’s case could be the reverse, at least initially. Obama launched an ambitious Middle East initiative his first week in office, and delivered a series of big-themed speeches in foreign capitals in his first six months.
The out-of-the-blocks domestic focus, coupled with the departure of at least one top cabinet member handling foreign policy, means Obama will need to put in place in relatively short order a foreign-policy and national security team that he can rely on.
That team is expected to have some big shoes to fill.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has long said she would step down at the end of Obama’s first term, although recently she has said she would be willing to stay on board – perhaps for a couple of months – until a replacement is confirmed.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has not spoken publicly of any plans to leave his post. But Pentagon watchers note that Secretary Panetta spends almost every weekend at his home in California, and they speculate that he may decide to step down at some point next year.
The departure of Secretary Clinton and, potentially, Panetta could set in motion a game of musical chairs in the administration, with perhaps a new face or two joining some familiar administration faces for a reshuffling of foreign-policy and national security assignments.