Jim Hoagland writes that President Obama should be careful in planning major policies for the second term. Barring surprises, he writes, recent history shows that if re-elected at all, presidents get caught up in resolving issues created in their first terms.
Long ago in Washington political years, in the days of Jimmy Carter's presidency, I grumbled to a senior diplomat that the administration had no strategy to start dismantling the trade embargo on Cuba. His reply still rings in my mind: "Don't be so impatient. That is for the second Carter term."
Presidents (and aides) who count on striding the earth as policy-morphing giants once they have conquered the pesky challenge of reelection are not fooling voters so much as fooling themselves. They do not get a Harry Potter wand even if they survive at the ballot box. They are still bound by the same bundle of internal compromises and future needs that constrain the modern-day politician. And the world is inevitably less impressed with their second presidential victory than are they.
President Obama's accidental disclosure this week of ambitions to be more flexible toward Russia on missile defense after Nov. 6 is not an isolated example of his second-term frame of mind. He has fine-tuned many foreign policy decisions — on Iran, the Middle East crisis, relations with European allies — to leave hard challenges until after he has fought his last election. But that does not mean that he will overhaul U.S. options after Election Day, even if he is able to.