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Issue Guide: U.S. Presidential Transition

Author: Toni Johnson
January 21, 2013


President Barack Obama begins his second term facing turnover in top foreign policy and national security cabinet positions amid stiff challenges in the Middle East and Asia, and on fiscal policy. The following materials offer a guide to understanding the issues and policymaking challenges for Washington.

Photo: Jason Reed/Courtesy Reuters

National Security and Foreign Policy

CFR Video Briefs

A series of video segments with CFR fellows on vital foreign policy and national security topics that will face the next president.

Project Syndicate: The New Old Year

Global developments not just in the year ahead, but also during the next decade and beyond, will depend in large part on whether the United States can better manage its domestic challenges and divisions, writes CFR President Richard N. Haass.

Foreign Policy: Obama's Moment

Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that President Obama should use the first year of his second term to confront difficult foreign policy issues because history, not the public, will henceforth be his ultimate judge.

Washington Post: A Grand Strategy for Obama's Second Term

"Obama's choice of a grand strategy for his second term could help drive a more proactive foreign policy, defining a legacy that is more than the sum of responses to crises," writes former State Department policy planning chief Anne-Marie Slaughter.

CFR Interview: World Outlook for 2013

The ongoing crises in the Middle East, rising tensions in East Asia, and the health of the international economy are three critical issues facing the new U.S. administration, says CFR's Director of Studies James Lindsay.

Brookings Institution: Big Bets and Black Swans

A series of memos from experts at Brookings examines the foreign policy "big bets," where the Obama administration should invest its energies, and the "black swans," which it calls the "low probability, high-impact events that could derail the administration's priorities."

Foreign Policy: The Second Coming

The magazine provides ten written pieces on what the president could accomplish in his second term particularly without the help of Congress, including dumping unsavory allies, a trade deal with Europe, and cutting power plant pollution.

Wall Street Journal: Second Term Offers a Chance to Craft His Legacy

Gerald Seib writes that if the president can shake many of the problems that plague his first term, he has three big chances for crafting a broader legacy: energy independence, an immigration overhaul, and a new assault on income inequality.

Economist: The Obama Doctrine

In his second term, Obama wants to pull back America's involvements abroad and secure a domestic legacy, but the international community will keep calling America back into the fray, writes the Economist.

Forbes India: What the World Expects from Obama's Second Term

Shravan Bhat offers a "wish list" of what countries from China to France want from the United States during Obama's second term.


Essential Document: Obama on the Debt Limit

President Obama gave this news conference on the debt ceiling in January 2013: "Republicans in Congress have two choices here. They can act responsibly, and pay America's bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. But they will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy."

Yale Environment 360: A Path to U.S. Progress on Climate

"What can we expect in the second term? No action in Congress, so no cap-and-trade program or carbon tax. State action and EPA regulation will continue to be the only major climate games in town. Yet such a path could prove to be surprisingly productive," writes John Carey.

Politico: The GOP's Immigration Jam

The GOP is facing internal conflict as Republicans find themselves divided over the issue of immigration reform spearheaded by the Obama administration, write Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen.

Foreign Policy: The Bidenization of America

Joseph Biden, Obama's "single most influential foreign policy adviser," is poised to surpass Dick Cheney as the most powerful vice president in American history in the president's second term, writes David Rothkopf.

Foreign Affairs: Rebooting Republican Foreign Policy

The 2012 presidential election showed that Republicans have lost their decades-long competitive edge on foreign policy and need to start taking international relations more seriously, writes Daniel Drezner.

NPR: Uncertainty for the Pentagon

Looming sequestration cuts of massive proportions, coupled with a U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan and boiling partisanship over nominating Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, spell uncertainty for the Defense Department in Obama's second term.

Major Nominations

Washington Post: Obama's Nominations Signal Adjustments at Pentagon and CIA

Greg Miller and Scott Wilson discuss how President Obama's nominations of Chuck Hagel and John Brennan signal a shift in the administration's national security policies as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close.

CFR Transition 2012 Blog: John Brennan's Nomination

This CFR blog post provides a look at the nomination of Brennan as head of the CIA, including his thoughts on national security and the use of drones.

CFR Transcript: Brennan on U.S. Policy Toward Yemen

John Brennan, Obama's nominee for head of the CIA, spoke on U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Yemen during a meeting hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations in August 2012: "Today I'd simply say that all our [counterterrorism] efforts in Yemen are conducted in concert with the Yemeni government. When direct action is taken, every effort is made to avoid any civilian casualty. And contrary to conventional wisdom, we see little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for AQAP."

TIME: What Awaits Brennan at the CIA

Robert Baer says he expects the drone program will spread as needed to Libya, Syria, and sub-Saharan Africa under Brennan, but it is unlikely the CIA will return to traditional espionage.

Foreign Policy: The 3:00 a.m. Call

Missing from the debate over Chuck Hagel's nomination is any substantive discussion of the secretary of defense's statutory and customary role in the use of U.S. military power, writes CFR's Micah Zenko.

CFR Transcript: Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel speaks at a June 2011 event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations: "Terrorism -- if you remember, we were consumed for six years about terrorism. Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. Damn near every bill we passed in the Congress -- we restructured intelligence, we invented the Department of Homeland Security. We still don't even know what we did on that."

The Nation: Tough Questions for John Kerry

John Kerry's nomination as secretary of state provides a critical opportunity for the Senate to examine the administration's foreign policy priorities, including presidential war-making power, climate change, and Iran, write The Nation editors.

CFR Transition 2012 Blog: John Kerry's Nomination

This CFR blog post provides a look at the nomination of Kerry as secretary of state and his views on foreign policy.

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Issue Guide: State of the Union

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President Barack Obama's State of the Union address is expected to focus on improving U.S. competitiveness and the economy. This guide...