2. Legacy cuts both ways: the hero or the goat
Having been elected to a second term, the only thing you're running against now is the reputations and accomplishments of your predecessors. Health care -- it's too soon to know for sure -- may be your domestic legacy. But the temptation to secure a foreign-policy spectacular will be great, too.
I saw the draw of legacy play out in a negative way during the final year of the Clinton administration. As Clinton saw his last days in the White House tick away, he grasped on to the idea of hosting an ill-timed, ill-prepared, and poorly thought-through summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat at Camp David in July 2000.The rush to the summit led to a collapse of the peace process from which Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have yet to recover. Arafat received much of the blame for Camp David's failure, much of it well-deserved but counter-productive nonetheless, leading to another spasm of violence.
As the sand passes through the hourglass of your second term, that's something to keep in mind. Yes, a dramatic success on a tough issue can add to the luster of your presidency. But failure also carries consequences that go well beyond your presidency and can have serious implications for your successor.
3. Empower your secretary of state
I would have thought, given the huge domestic crisis you faced in 2008, that you would have been only too happy to delegate significant responsibility to your diplomat-in-chief. And why not? Hillary Clinton is talented and knowledgeable. And while certainly not a great secretary of state in the mold of Henry Kissinger or James Baker, she has done an immense amount to improve America's image by pursuing an agenda of global humanism -- emphasizing the role of women, the environment, technology, and social media.
But when it came to the big issues such as Iran, Afghanistan, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you withheld far more than you gave. All power on these issues flowed to and from the White House. Clinton owned not a one of them.
No matter whom you choose as your next secretary of state, you ought to be more generous in delegating authority over some of these big issues.
Yes, this may conflict with your desire to forge your own legacy. But presidents can't be everywhere and do everything. Smart and empowered secretaries of state can set up all kinds of opportunities through the tireless and tedious diplomacy that you may not have the time to join. Baker worked for nine months to set up the Madrid peace conference for Bush 41. Madeleine Albright labored for a year and a half to set up the Wye River Summit and prevented a great deal of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the process. Give your secretary of state a few big issues -- he or she can actually make you look good, and serve American national interests too.
4. Come clean on Benghazi
You have a real credibility problem on this one from almost every conceivable angle. You've prided yourself on competence in foreign policy, and yet the fatal attack on the diplomatic mission in eastern Libya raises serious questions about your administration's judgment and performance.
Over the past two months, the questions have piled up higher and higher: Why weren't adequate preparations taken months before the attack to deal with what was clearly a higher threat level to Western and U.S. interests in Libya? What was the CIA's role in responding to the crisis, and the Pentagon's too? And what about the confused and misleading messages that came from your administration as you responded to the crisis?
Neither a congressional nor a State Department investigation will be credible enough to answer these questions. Some independent panel should be created -- one with the mandate to go after the White House, too -- to determine what transpired. In a turbulent Middle East, the threats to America's diplomats will continue. We need to figure out a better way to minimize the risks.