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Obama will have to cross major MINEFIELDS

Last updated on: November 9, 2012 08:36 IST

Obama will have to cross major minefields

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The lack of references to India during the presidential debates showed how inconsequential India is from the point of view of the economy as well as Asia-Pacific tensions, says B Raman

To be fair to United States President Barack Obama, one cannot deny that he inherited a bad economy from his predecessor Mr George Bush. It became worse partly due to the lack of energetic handling by his economic team and partly due to the global economic meltdown during his first term.

The cumulative effect was a seemingly bad economic record which was sought to be exploited skilfully by his challenger Mitt Romney. During the first Presidential debate, Romney managed to keep the spotlight focussed on Obama over the declining state of the economy.

After the first debate, the economy started showing glacial signs of improvement. The unemployment rate stopped increasing. More jobs were being created. More people started getting jobs. The deficit position remained as bad as ever, but the job market was not as gloomy as it was before the first Presidential debate.

Not many analysts noticed these glacial changes for the better in the job market. The BBC's economic analyst was one of the very few to have done so.

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Image: A sand sculpture of US President Barack Obama on a beach at Puri
Photographs: Reuters

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Obama will have to cross major minefields

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When the American voters went to the polls on November 6, they had before their eyes a job market which had stopped deteriorating. Should they give credit for this to Obama's economic policies and give time to those policies to reduce the negativity in the economy by giving him a second term, or should they turn to Romney and his proposed policy package without any guarantee of its success?

They chose the first option and decided to let Obama continue for a second term in view of what seemed a turnaround in the job market.

That is how I would explain the remarkable success of Obama despite his lack-lustre handling of the economy during the first term. Other factors contributed to his success too such as his demonstrated leadership in handling the disaster wrought by superstorm Sandy, which stood in sharp contrast to the lack of leadership of Bush in dealing with natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.

But these factors alone would not have led to the victory of Obama if the clouds of economic gloom had not started showing signs of dissipation with respect to the job market before voting day.

Obama is going to face three major minefields during his second term.

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Image: An Occupy Wall Street activist is arrested while protesting in the streets of New York's financial district
Photographs: Andrew Burton/Reuters

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Obama will have to cross major minefields

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The first will relate to the economy. Despite incipient signs of an improvement in the job market, an economic upswing is not round the corner. Whether there is an economic upswing would depend on how he and his advisers handle the deficit. Controlling the deficit will take time.

During the campaign, Romney managed to plant seeds of suspicion in the minds of sections of US voter that China was partly responsible for the USA's economic woes. He said during the third debate – which was devoted to foreign policy -- that if he became the President he would declare China a foreign exchange manipulator.

The references to China by both the candidates during the Presidential debates in the context of the economic situation would augment the attention given to China during Obama's second term. There will be more attention to China from the point of view of the economy as well as the tensions in the Asia Pacific region.

The lack of references to India during the debates showed how inconsequential India is from the point of view of the economy as well as Asia-Pacific tensions. India would not be a beneficiary of the increased attention to the China-centric concerns during Obama's second term. We should not nurse any illusions of a greater importance to India in view of the China factor.

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Image: Burnt houses surrounded by houses that survived is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in the Breezy Point neighbourhood of Queens, New York
Photographs: Reuters
Tags: China , India , USA , Obama

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Obama will have to cross major minefields

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The second minefield will be with regard to Afghanistan. Obama has taken an irreversible decision to thin down the US troop presence in Afghanistan.

There is going to be continuing instability in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai is going to complete his second term. He will not be eligible for a third term. A new Afghanistan president will add to ground uncertainties at a time when the US and other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's troops thin out.

Pakistani co-operation for ensuring stability on the ground in Afghanistan during the Obama's second term will become more important than it was during his first term.

He may not be able to adopt the same tough line towards Pakistan as he did during his first term. He may find himself increasingly compelled to pay more attention to Pakistan's sensitivities. That would mean less attention to Indian interests.

The convergence of Indian and US interests and policies in Afghanistan would not be sharp.

The third minefield would relate to Syria and Iran.

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Image: US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama remember troopers who died in a chopper crash in Afghanistan
Photographs: Jason Reed/Reuters

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Obama will have to cross major minefields

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Obama has pledged to bring about a regime change in Syria, if need be, by strengthening the capabilities of the anti-Assad forces in the country. He has also pledged to increase pressure on Iran on the nuclear issue. The Jewish voters are believed to have largely voted for Romney due to their belief that he would take a tougher line towards the Assad regime in Syria and Iran than Obama.

Obama has to placate Jewish sensitivities. He cannot afford to be indifferent to them. Dealing with Syria will not be as easy as dealing with Libya because of Iran's close interests in Syria and the Lebanese factor.

Any fresh instability in Lebanon as a result of the US's policies in Syria will complicate the ground situation, increasing the possibility of fresh Israeli intervention in Lebanon. Dealing with the new complexities in the region without opening a fresh Pandora's Box is going to be a tricky matter.

Obama's preoccupation is going to be with these three minefields. The options available for India for further strengthening our strategic partnership with the US will remain limited. We must focus on reviving and strengthening our economy and stabilising and increasing our regional influence without exaggerated hopes of a surge in our links with the US.

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Image: Supporters of Awami Majlis-e-Amal Pakistan stand next to a burning image of US President Barack Obama during an anti-American rally in Quetta
Photographs: Naseer Ahmed/Reuters
Tags: Syria , Iran , US , Lebanon

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