Barack Obama has won the battle for re-election, but now he must contend with the “war” for restoring American prosperity. While the headlines are currently dominated by domestic issues, including the looming “fiscal cliff,” President Obama also faces numerous challenges abroad. China is growing increasingly aggressive in its expansion and is positioning itself to challenge the fading U.S. hegemon. Meanwhile, Myanmar had been a bright spot for U.S. foreign policy, but recent developments threaten to destabilize the impoverished nation. Add in an increasingly belligerent Iran and President Obama has his work cut out for him.
Just about everyone is aware of the looming “fiscal cliff.” If the U.S. Congress and the President himself cannot work out a fiscally sound budget policy, then severe spending cuts and tax hikes will automatically go into effect. Most economists agree, these tax hikes and spending cuts will almost certainly drag the U.S. into recession and could threaten the global economy.
While the Fiscal Cliff is the biggest issue on the horizon, it is not the only important issue by any means. China is growing increasingly aggressive in the South China Sea and elsewhere around the world, ready to show its dominance on the world stage. China is also ramping up its military commitments and may some day challenge the U.S. For military supremacy.
And military activities aren't the only sign of Chinese expansion. Recent aggressive trade agreements with countries ranging from Japan to Iran now allow direct currency exchanges between China and various other nations. This allows the the two countries involved in the agreement to exchange currencies and goods without having to use the dollar as an intermediary. The move threatens the U.S. Dollar's position as the world's “reserve” currency.
Myanmar had been a bright spot in recent weeks but progress has been derailed as ethnic tensions have begun to flair up. Violence has recently broke out in the Rakhine province, leaving 140 people dead and at least 100,000 people displaced. Many Muslim villagers, fearing for their lives, took to the seas in boats and makeshift rafts, hoping to escape the violence.
According to reports, the Myanmar government has been working to quell the violence between the Buddhist and the Muslim populations in the state of Rakhine. If true this would mark a positive step for a government that has been accused of oppressing minority groups within Myanmar. This could bring about renewed violence and also dash heightened hopes for long-lasting stability in the impoverished South East Asian nation.
Strategically, Myanmar is important for the U.S. for several reasons. Myanmar had been moving closer and closer to China during its isolation, however, by encouraging reform and stability, the U.S. can curb Chinese expansion through diplomacy. Myanmar could also serve as an important blue print for engaging other long isolated regimes, such as Cuba and North Korea. Though the circumstances in each case are vastly different, successful reforms and increased prosperity in Myanmar might help bring other rogue regimes to the table.
Iran has so far held firm to its commitment to develop nuclear energy, supposedly for peaceful purposes. Of course, many nations and analysts suspect that Iran is also trying to develop nuclear weapons. Under intense pressure from international sanctions Iran seems to becoming increasingly belligerent, at least in rhetoric. Sanctions may cause the Iranian government to fold, but on the other hand, the hard-line government could also respond with desperate measures.
While the United States Military could easily overpower the Iranian military in a direct conflict, President Barack Obama is almost certainly looking to avoid another costly military campaign. Further, the Iranian military could possibly shut down the straights of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, disrupting oil supplies. Another conflict in the greater region could inflame tensions even further and would drain the United State's already spent resources.
If Iran continues on its path towards developing a nuclear arsenal there is a high risk that another regional country might launch a unilateral counter attack. The most likely candidate to launch such an attack is Israel, which is vehemently opposed to a nuclear armed Iran. Saudi Arabia and other “Arab” nations, however, are also strongly opposed to Iran's nuclear ambitions, whether said ambitions be peaceful or not.
If President Barack Obama is unable to get Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions there is a strong possibility that a regional conflict could erupt, regardless of whether or not the United States starts or supports it. Almost certainly the U.S. would eventually get drawn into such a conflict, even against its own will. Such a conflict would undoubtedly hurt oil supplies and would cause a spike in oil prices. This in-turn could send the global economy grinding to a halt.
While the looming fiscal cliff will eat up most of the headlines in coming weeks, the Obama administration must also juggle numerous other issues around the world. With America being largely perceived as on the decline, the Obama administration will be under increased pressure to prove to the world that the United States is still the leading superpower and able to effectively participate and when necessary manage world affairs.