Obama's Global Challenges

By Bruce Stokes

The American people have spoken. Barack Obama remains the president of the United States - and by extension leader of the world - for the next four years. The people of Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America had no say in this choice, but they must live with the consequences. The policies pursued by the reelected American president, be it dealing with the economy, Iran, terrorism or trade, promise to have a profound effect on the lives and livelihoods of billions of people in all parts of the globe.

The promises that presidential candidates make on the campaign trail do not necessarily dictate the policies pursued, But presidents tend to attempt to implement their promises. Moreover, American public opinion on a range of issues facing the next president is clear, with priority on the economy, preventing a nuclear Iran and catching up with China. Obama will defy such sentiment at his political peril.

Receive email alerts

The potential for either collaboration or friction between the new administration and foreign governments is ever-present. Europeans, Asians, Africans and Latin Americans attempting to gauge the implications of Obama's victory understandably wonder if commitments made in the heat of a US presidential election really matter once a candidate becomes president. They do.

"About 75 percent of the promises made by presidents from Woodrow Wilson through Jimmy Carter were kept," concluded Michael Krukones in his 1984 book Promises and Performance: Presidential Campaigns as Policy Predictors. More recently, PolitiFact, the winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for its efforts to keep US politicians honest, concluded that of the 508 separate promises candidate Obama made during the 2008 presidential campaign, he broke only 88 - despite a polarized Congress intent on blocking Democratic initiatives.

Thus when a presidential candidate's promise is buttressed by the support of the American public, or at least the backing of his party stalwarts, it may be safe to assume that he'll try to implement that commitment. Some of Obama's economic commitments will be tested over the next few weeks.

The US economy risks careening over what many call a "fiscal cliff' in January 2013, when, as the result of the debt deal struck between Congress and the White House in August 2011, dramatic cuts must be made to defense and social-welfare spending and taxes must be raised unless a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan is agreed upon. The nonpartisan US Congressional Budget Office estimates that implementing such spending cuts and tax increases would shrink the American economy by 0.5 percent in 2013. Such a course would ripple through the global economy already hobbled by near recession in Europe and slowdown in China, India and Japan.

Doing nothing would mean that the US government deficit would remain above $1 trillion for a fifth consecutive year, risking a spike in interest rates that could slow growth anyway. Obama will be intensely involved in negotiations with congressional leaders about the "fiscal cliff" even before his 20 January inauguration.

Obama has promised to cut the federal budget deficit from 8.5 percent in 2012 to 3 percent by 2017 - by slashing defense spending from 4.6 percent of GDP to 2.9 percent by 2017 and raising tax rates from 35 percent to 39.6 percent for those making more than $250,000 a year, among other measures.

Obama faces a serious conundrum. Republicans, who in the past have opposed any proposals to increase taxes as part of a package of measures to deal with the deficit, remain in control of the US House of Representatives. Under current rules the Republican minority in the Senate has sufficient votes to block legislation.

1 | 2 | Next Page››

Bruce Stokes is director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. Additional details about public opinion on these and other issues can be found at Pewresearch.org. © 2012 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Sponsored Links
Related Articles
November 13, 2012
Global Power Vacuum Gives U.S. Room to Operate - George Friedman
November 13, 2012
Israel Concerned About U.S. Support Post-Election - Abraham Rabinovich
November 9, 2012
Obama Should Focus on Europe - Gregory Feifer
November 7, 2012
The Elections, Gridlock and Foreign Policy - George Friedman
November 2, 2012
Obama Runs from Iran - Tony Badran
Bruce Stokes
Author Archive