What Obama’s reelection means for world politics

It now appears that U.S. president Barack Obama has been reelected for a second term through January 2017, notwithstanding the highest unemployment rate in a generation, an economy that continues to show sluggish growth and the highest budget deficits since World War II. 

But what does it mean for world politics that Obama — and not his Republican rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — has won the election?

David Rothkopf had a superb piece in Foreign Policy yesterday listing 12 catastrophes the next president — Obama or Romney — must avoid.  Those catastrophes range from another terrorist attack like the Sept. 11 attacks, a trade war with China, a real war with Iran, regional destabilization in the Middle East, escalating U.S. involvement in north Africa, a fiscal or budgetary crisis, and Japan-style long-term economic stagnation.

In addition, I would add that the U.S.-Mexico relationship is at a critical juncture with the incoming administration of Enrique Peña Nieto and the return of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party) to power after 12 years.  That has implications for U.S. drug policy, energy policy and potential foreign development of the Mexican oil industry, border security and immigration reform, trade and other Latin American economic policy.

Sub-Saharan Africa, too, is at a critical point — economic growth is returning and China has moved aggressively to develop the continent’s resources after two decades of conflict and misery.  From Ghana to Kenya, Africa will face a flurry of elections in the months ahead.  Aside from the remaining problems in Mali and Libya, the United States has a keen interest in two additional immediate issues: (i) solidifying the role of Ethiopia as a regional partner in stabilizing the Horn of Africa following the death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi two months ago under newly installed prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and (ii) ensuring that the newly independent South Sudan doesn’t turn into a failed state and that relations between Sudan and South Sudan over resource allocation don’t ignite a war that could easily inflame much of central Africa.

Of course, with Obama’s reelection, as soon as U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton steps down, her successor will likely be Massachusetts senator John Kerry, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice or national security advisor Thomas Donilon.

But despite the fact that Romney seemed to agree more than disagree with Obama on foreign policy in their final presidential debate back in October, there are real differences between the two.  Here are ten of the most salient consequences of what Obama’s win means for world politics — beyond giving hope to other incumbents that you can win reelection despite a subdued economy:

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