In Afghanistan, the president will seek to stick to NATO’s 2014 withdrawal date for most international troops, a central campaign promise. His administration has been trying unsuccessfully to jump-start peace negotiations between Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s Western-backed government and the Taliban.
The so-called reconciliation effort relies heavily on the US’ frustrating and unreliable ally Pakistan, where extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network will continue to face US drone attacks.
Behind all the diplomatic efforts are larger questions of US geopolitical strategy.
Obama had initial success improving US relations with Russia, getting a nuclear arms-reduction pact last year, but has since seen the US’ former Cold War foe frustrate US missile defense plans and hopes of an international consensus on Syria. The president has continued to trumpet the benefits of his Russia “reset” policy, but may take a firmer stance against Moscow if it refuses to show compromise.
For economic reasons, China policy is less likely to change. The world’s two biggest economies are deeply interdependent and, despite lingering disagreements over Beijing’s currency exchange rates and intellectual property infringement, neither side will want to do anything that threatens a trade war and jeopardizes China’s booming growth or the US’ still-fragile jobs recovery.