(MintPress) – All eyes are on President Barack Obama as he approaches his second term, with conservatives cringing and liberals hoping he’ll revert to the tune of hope he sang in his 2008 presidential race.
He ran on a platform in 2012 of getting the job done, seeing his plan to fruition — one he says will uplift the economy, get Americans back to work and restore America’s presence as a peacekeeper and beacon of human rights in the world.
In March, Obama was caught over a live microphone in a conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, telling him that he would have “more flexibility” after the election. This comment garnered negative feedback by those who claimed it showed arrogance — yet others took it as a different way: a sign that he would be able to move ahead with bold plans in his second term, without worrying about re-election.
So, will he?
Even liberal critics of the presidents have balked at his policies over the last four years, which have included covert drone operations, resulting in the death of hundreds of civilians including at least 178 children, and measures hidden within the National Defense Authorization Act 2012, which gave the government power to detain those suspected of associating with labeled terrorists, indefinitely, without due process.
Domestically, the gun control debate is not likely to wane anytime soon, as the nation scrambles for a quick-fix solution to ending gun violence in the wake of a 2012 that produced five mass shootings, including the most recent elementary school shooting that left 27 dead in Newtown, Conn.
Obama did say following the shooting that he wanted new gun control measures in one year, specifically saying he supports background checks for gun purchases and a ban on assault rifles.
“Will there be resistance? Absolutely there will be resistance,” he said in an interview with David Gregory on Meet the Press Dec. 29. “And the question then becomes whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away.”
A USA TODAY/Gallup poll showed that while there was a movement among Americans to enact stricter gun control in the wake of the Newtown tragedy and a deadly year, in terms of gun violence, overall, only 44 percent of Americans support an assault weapons ban.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has already gone on the offensive, attacking the president for using a tragedy to limit Americans’ Second Amendment rights to bear arms.
Passing a nationwide assault weapons ban, which was previously enacted under former President Bill Clinton but expired under President George Bush in 2007, would come at the attack of the NRA, the very organization that represents gun manufacturers, from which it has collected roughly $38 million in donations from 2005, according to the Violence Policy Center.
Obama will also be tasked this year with encouraging Congress to ratify an International Arms Trade Treaty which would limit the countries American manufacturers sell weapons to, among other measures. The NRA has already begun to call out the president for considering this. Last year, the world was optimistic the U.S. would sign on to the treaty, but it refused at the last minute.
This is an area where the president will likely see success in his new term, perhaps defining one of his greatest achievements, or at least “positive” legacies.
While Mexican-American border control agent presence has escalated under Obama, showcasing him as a hardline illegal immigration president, he’s considered a champion among Latino voters. This is largely due to his announcement in June that young undocumented workers who came here as children would be immune from deportation — and will qualify for temporary two-year work visas. To qualify, undocumented workers must be 30 years or younger and must have entered the U.S. under the age of 16. those qualifying must also have had clean criminal records.
While not seen as a solution to the issue, it was a step forward in the debate over how to deal with long term undocumented workers in America. Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity represented the shift in thought toward immigration when he said he had “evolved” on the issue, recognizing that self-deportations were not the answer — and that if the Republicans wanted a chance at the White House in the future, they’d have to listen to the voting Hispanic population who have tuned in to policies that affect their family members.
Moving forward, Obama said he would tackle immigration reform as a whole, presumably expanding avenues for America’s 11 million undocumented workers to obtain citizenship in a realistic way.
Middle East foreign policy
It’s safe to say the U.S. is unlikely to sever its ties with Saudi Arabia, the world’s top human rights abuser and major oil supplier. Obama will, however, have an opportunity to show his true colors in the handling of foreign affairs.
In terms of Syria, Obama has repeatedly blasted the Assad regime and launched a covert operation, arming rebels fighting against the government, despite claims that such rebels were linked to al-Qaida. Most recently, Obama criticized the Assad regime and claims that it was armed with chemical weapons — a claim that could be used as justified reasoning for an all-out war against Syria. All eyes will be on Obama to see whether, in a time of winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. will use troops to take down the Assad regime.
There’s also the issue of Iran, relating to U.S. relations with Israel and Palestine. With the United Nations General Assembly voting overwhelmingly to recognize Palestine as a non-member state, the international tide is flowing in favor of the Palestinians. Now the question is: How will Obama align himself with Israel? Will he favor a two-state solution to the ongoing conflict and illegal Israeli occupation in the West Bank?
If rumors surrounding his most recent candidate for secretary of defense are true with Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, it’s unlikely the U.S. will cozy up to Israel to the same extent that would have occurred under a Mitt Romney administration. Yet the U.S. will have to tow the line between support for Israel, while also staving off war against Iran — a juggling act the president will be poised to handle — and handle well.
In terms of key players in Obama’s foreign policy cabinet, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has already said she’ll throw in the towel — and Obama has already stated that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) will take her place. His appointment, however, has not been officially been made.
In terms of Afghanistan, the question is whether the president will withdraw all troops by 2014, or withdraw combat troops — this could leave room for up to 10,000 support troops to remain in Afghanistan.
Drone strikes, which the president has only vaguely recognized, will continue, in line with comments the president made during the Presidential Debate Series. The CIA has already made plans to expand its drone operations throughout the Middle East and Africa, with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta acknowledging the need to expand Special Operation Forces to 72,000 in Africa alone by 2017.
Even an Obama that in 2008 had a different presidency in mind is unlikely to turn back the tide of actions that have created America’s foreign policy stances today. This is not the area where his legacy of change will likely occur. Instead, Americans will look to key issues that instantly impact them in judging whether the president’s second term was a success or failure.
His economy, health care reform, immigration policy and the nation’s move toward marriage equality (even if he has nothing to do with it, other than giving continued verbal support) will likely be the biggest issues his critics and admirers judge him on.
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