Last week, Presid-ent Barack Obama was reelected for his last term as president of the USA. He has the distinction of being the second president from the Democratic Party to be elected for two full terms with a credible majority since President F.D. Roosevelt. Obama again won both the popular and the Electoral College (EC) votes. However the Democratic Party did not fare so well in elections to the House of Representatives. The Republican Party retained its majority there. The US Senate saw the Democratic Party slightly ahead.
Now that Obama will stay back in the White House for another 4 years, what are his plans for the people of his country and the world at large?
The USA in many ways is a politically divided country today. On one hand the Democrats and their followers are keen to reduce the huge national debt which today amounts to almost $14 trillion. But they want to do this by taxing the rich and spending on the poor and the marginalised. They also want to generate jobs in America. Obama did successfully generate employment by revitalising the US auto industry when it was in deep debt in the last recession. In his first term the Ppesident ended the US military intervention in Iraq. This time round he pledged to bring back all the US combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014. But this does not mean that he will relent on counter-terrorism measures. He wants to ensure that US citizens are never messed with and the perpetrators do not get away unscathed.
The Republican Party on the other hand wants to reduce taxes on the rich so that they can invest their savings on starting new enterprises in the US that hire Americans. It does not want to spend much on education but want to kick-start the economy through investments by the rich. In foreign policy, the Party's stand is to disengage as much as possible from China and not to be more indebted to them in the future. It wants to export more American products to China and want it to open its huge market to American products. It also wants to spend more on the American military without deciding on a global strategy.
Now that Obama has won the presidency it may be important to analyse what triggered his victory. It is now known that he capitalised on the American demographic dividend. The youth stood by his message. They liked what he said about education, school fees, teachers and research. They also liked what he said about health care and lowering its cost. Add to the youth, women (who constitute almost half of the electorate) moved towards Obama. They liked his position on women's right to abortion and their inherent right over their bodies. Obama also got overwhelming support of the fastest growing segment of the American population, Hispanics and African Americans. Obama had assured the Hispanics that he would, if elected, have a fresh look at US immigration policy.
The Republicans under Romney could garner support of the white community only, which is dwindling in size. But what really brought out the voters in large numbers on election day was his campaign strategy. His supporters had personally contacted more than 50 million voters over telephones and through house visits. He also concentrated his campaign in the heavily populated big cities and townships as well on the traditionally undecided voters who reside in about eleven of the states in the USA -- like Iowa, Ohio, Florida, etc.
So what now? Come January 20, 2013, when Obama is sworn in for the second time, he will need to use the two advantages he brings with him to the Oval Office. As he will be not contesting in the next presidential elections he will now be quite free to reach across the Congressional aisle and encourage bipartisanship when he needs to decide on critical economic and foreign policy issues. Secondly, he will not be required to raise funds for reelection. So he will be free from the influence of national lobbies, be they trade unions or professional bodies as well as powerful special interest groups. So he will be able to judge issues purely on their merit. This may therefore allow him to leave an excellent legacy of a successful presidency.
Immediately, however, Obama has to regain the confidence of his detractors in the Republican Party and bring them round to support his move not to lower the tax on the rich. The deadline for this to be decided upon is fast approaching. He will have to reach a compromise formula soon. He has also to see that no new taxes are imposed on the middle class. Then he will need to discover how he can generate revenue to meet the gargantuan fiscal deficit. In that case, he may have to stop many projects which would otherwise take away the national savings.
He needs to give priority to upgrading major infrastructure projects so that new jobs can come into the market and at the same time help new business. He also has to see that investment funds flow to small and medium size businesses so that business confidence increases. Amidst all this, he should build up human capital by starting large scale retraining programmes and better and cheaper health care. Obama thinks also that America should lead in research and innovation. So he has to encourage the best brains in the world to come to America easily and be persuaded to stay there. This will stop outsourcing abroad by American entrepreneurs.
President Obama has to look anew at his military and foreign policy options. Although he is withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan, he has to decide on disengaging from Pakistan. His drone attacks in the wild Waziristan district of Pakistan have made him unpopular with the Pakistan government and the people. He needs to regain the confidence of Pakistan to fight the Taliban. He also needs to look at the Middle East. Israel's aggressive attitude towards Iran had derailed American strategy to contain Irans's nuclear programme, if any. Again, the issue of a Palestinian state needs to be finally resolved with Israel. Obama has a chance now to attempt to do all this. Bringing permanent peace to the Middle East could be one of his lasting legacies.
We in Bangladesh welcome President Obama's reelection. He has been a reliable friend of the people of Bangladesh. He is well liked here. We therefore wish him well. It is now to be seen whether, in the future, this faith which the majority of the people of the USA and the world have reposed on him is not misplaced.
The writer is a former ambassador and a regular commentator on contemporary affairs.
E-mail: [email protected]