First Published: 2012-11-07

 

Challenges facing Obama: US economy, Iran, Syria

 

Re-elected US leader will face growing pressure for more robust US response on Syria, tougher stance on Iran.

 

Middle East Online

By Jo Biddle - WASHINGTON

Rocky diplomatic road

With the grueling presidential race over and victory assured, Barack Obama might be forgiven for wanting a rest.

But instead he will have to put such thoughts aside as he battles to pull America back from the looming "fiscal cliff," a budget deadline that could scupper his already stumbling attempts to revive the economy.

Averting this potential economic disaster -- now only weeks away -- will be the top priority for the Democrat, re-elected Tuesday for a second term in the White House but still facing a Republican-led lower house.

"The biggest challenge facing the president going forward is the issue of the fiscal cliff and the broader fiscal health of the United States of America," said analyst James M. Lindsay of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"If the next president cannot succeed in finding a way to put the United States on a glide path to fiscal solvency, the long term consequences for America and its foreign policy will be immense and dire," he said.

Unemployment and the fragile economy -- showing nascent signs of stuttering back to life after four tough years -- were the top concerns of voters.

But Republicans and Democrats, now sitting in a lame duck Congress as the new House and Senate prepare to take up their seats in January, need to bridge differences on tackling the nation's deficit by a December 31 deadline.

If they fail then, under a law reached as a political compromise last year, the government will be forced over the "cliff" and into automatic massive cuts, split between defense spending and non-defense spending.

The Congressional Budget Office says the austerity measures could shrink the economy by 0.5 percent next year and push unemployment back up to 9.1 percent, from the current 7.8 percent.

The August 2011 law sets out spending cuts of $1.2 trillion over 10 years from January 2, 2013 and, without a deal, the government will have to cut some $109 billion in spending next year.

At the same time a package of tax reductions set or extended in 2010 to spur economic growth, as well as an extension of unemployment benefits, are scheduled to expire, meaning taxes will rise significantly for most Americans.

While it may be the most immediate problem, the fiscal cliff is far from the only challenge facing Obama.

Iran's suspect nuclear program, bubbling away on a back-burner for months, will once again come to the fore, especially if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wins re-election in his country's elections in January.

Obama has pledged that he will not let Iran develop a nuclear weapon, and Israel will keep up the pressure to ensure he keeps his word.

Netanyahu has pushed Washington and the international community to set clear "red lines" on Iran, and will no doubt take up his clarion call again, especially if he is emboldened by a renewed mandate.

The Jewish state, the Middle East's sole but undeclared nuclear power, has refused to rule out a military strike to stop Iran obtaining nuclear arms, but there has reportedly been much jostling behind the scenes to keep it in line.

Another looming headache is what to do about Syria. Months of brutal fighting in which more than 36,000 people, mostly civilians, have died has failed to dislodge autocratic President Bashar al-Assad.

So far, the Obama administration has been wary of deeper engagement in Syria, fearful of dragging the nation into another conflict, with US troops now out of Iraq and NATO-led combat forces leaving Afghanistan.

But with the Syrian conflict at a stalemate and the death toll mounting, there will undoubtedly be growing pressure for a more robust US response.

A rising China, which is undergoing significant leadership changes, and the unfolding changes in the Arab Spring which have muddied the political landscape in the region will also figure high at the top of Obama agenda.

And then there's the problem of the eurozone crisis -- although here the Americans are largely powerless and will have to leave Europe to figure out how to rescue its economy in the hope that there will be no fallout for the US.

"But all this is irrelevant if we don't get our act together here at home," warned former assistant secretary of state Winston Lord, at a Georgetown University seminar last week.

"If we don't get over this political gridlock, and if we don't solve our economic problems ... everything else we do on foreign policy is irrelevant.

We've got to do that for our credibility as a world leader."

 

Huthi seditious plans come out in open: Capture of government HQ in Sanaa

Bloody attack strikes outside Egypt Foreign Ministry in Cairo

Erdogan confesses: Turkey held ‘diplomatic negotiations’ with Islamic State

Pope denounces Islamic State: Religion cannot be used to justify violence!

Islamisation of education system prompts alarm in secular Turkey

UN warns over 'forcible transfer' of Palestinian Bedouin

Syria denies use of chlorine chemicals

Court verdict paves way for release of activist Mahienour el-Massry

IS fighters lay siege to Syria Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab

Israel steps up cyber-defense with new national body

Egypt military aircraft crashes after technical failure

Solution according to Huthis: Deal in Saada and battles in Sanaa

Mediators denounce ‘senseless fighting’ in South Sudan

Tunisia jihadist group offers backing to Islamic State

US Secretary of State sees role for Iran in war against Islamic State

Kurds cross from Turkey to fight Islamic State in Syria

Yemen suspends flights for second day as truce talks collapse

Turkey loses only excuse for appeasement with Islamic State

Marzouki seeks to stay as Tunisia President

Neighbourhood in Iraq’s Dhuluiyah stands against jihadists

British photographer Cantlie twice held hostage by IS

Turkey opens border to desperate Syrian Kurds

Jihadists to change tactics to avoid air strikes

Iran, six powers return to negotiating table

Saudi Arabia to restore Egypt's Al-Azhar mosque

Airlines suspend flights to Sanaa for 24 hours

US accuses Assad of breaking pact on chemical weapons

‘Concerned’ US urges Iran to cooperate in UN nuclear probe

Syrian children given anaesthesia not measles vaccination

France ready to provide ‘aerial support’ in Iraq

Tunisia denies existence of plot to assassinate Beji Caid Essebsi

Majority of Americans believe Obama mishandled terror threats

‘Islamic State’ releases video of captive British journalist

Libya cannot take more than 10 ministers

France approves bill to crack down on jihadists

Assassination of Libya ex-air force chief in Benghazi

14 Bahraini Shiites sentenced to life in prison for bombing

IS jihadists close in on Syria third largest Kurdish town

Yemen rebels clash with Sunni Islamists

New Turkish safety law costs 5,000 coal miners jobs

Bahrain slams Qatar for offering citizenship to Sunni nationals

Libya PM presents new cabinet in Tobruk

US House gives green light to plan to arm Syria rebels

Davutoglu denounces ruling against Turkey’s religion courses

South Sudan to revoke expulsion of foreign workers