Over the next several weeks, the parameters of President Barack Obama’s second-term national security and foreign policy team will begin to take shape. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta are expected to tender their resignations and retire from the administration. The new occupants of these posts, in turn, will change the composition of both departments through their appointments to senior policy positions. There has also been talk about a shake-up in the White House staff, as the president gears up to meet the challenges that were deferred or ignored due to the exigencies of the election campaign.
However, the election results have already given us some indications of the dynamics that will be helping to shape policy in the coming months.
The first point to note is that the 2012 elections did not produce any revolutionary changes. Instead, the American electorate reconfirmed the status quo of 2010. They expressed a slight preference for Obama’s leadership, but want his authority to be constrained. While Democrats slightly expanded their control of the Senate, which should help to get Obama’s nominees confirmed, Republicans still hold enough seats to use parliamentary procedures to slow down elements of the president’s agenda. More importantly, Republicans retained their control of the House of Representatives, the chamber where, according to the Constitution, all revenue bills must originate and whose acquiescence is required to approve new trade pacts. In other words, the balance of power that existed Monday, Nov. 5, remains intact, which will likely result in a continuation of the partisan deadlock that has characterized American politics for the past year.