Tight timetable to handle Iran, China

Tight timetable to handle Iran, China

There is a dizzying array of conflicts and crises unfolding around the world for which the steadying hand of the United States will be required in the year to come; that's the inescapable fate of a superpower.

Still, there are two crucial challenges which are guaranteed to preoccupy the US next year: the security map in Asia, and what Washington is prepared to do to prevent nuclear proliferation.

Both problems have been with us for some time. But in both cases, a decision no longer brooks delay, and 2014 will be the year during which the US will be forced to make some irreversible strategic choices.

One explanation for this compressed timetable is the very nature of the US electoral cycle.

A second-term US president has, at best, a two-year window of opportunity to push through key foreign policy decisions before he becomes a "lame duck", a man who constitutionally still holds all the levers of power but is, in practice, increasingly ignored by both Congress and other decision-makers in Washington, all of whom are far too busy either identifying or cosying up to the next potential White House occupant.

President Barack Obama has already devoted the first year of his second term to domestic matters, such as confronting his lawmakers over the US budget, or implementing his national health-care scheme.

He now has not more than eight months left to devote to international security issues before the Nov 4 mid-term elections take place; that's the cut-off point after which, historically, the decision-making powers of all US presidents rapidly decline, especially since, according to current opinion polls, the Republicans are likely to retain control over the US House of Representatives.

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