Now that his re-election is secured, President Barack Obama has a freer hand to deal with a world of familiar problems in fresh ways, from toughening America’s approach to Iran and Syria while potentially engaging other repressive countries such as Cuba and North Korea and refocusing on moribund Middle East peace efforts.
The first tweaks in his Iran policy could come within weeks, officials said.
But a pressing task for Obama will be to assign a new team to carry out his national security agenda. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has announced her plans to retire but could stay a few weeks past January to help the administration as it reshuffles personnel. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is likely to depart shortly after her.
The favorite to succeed Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, would face a difficult Senate confirmation process after her much-maligned explanations of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, meaning she could land instead as Obama’s national security adviser. That job that doesn’t require the Senate’s approval. Tom Donilon, who currently holds that position, and Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator, are among the other contenders.
The chances of another early favorite, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, are hampered by Democrats’ fear that Republican Scott Brown, who lost his Massachusetts Senate seat Tuesday, could win Kerry’s seat in a race to replace him.
Officials, however, are pointing to Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, Obama’s ambassador to China and Republican presidential candidate, and the State Department’s current No. 2, William Burns.