4. Remember the forgotten continents.
It chagrins me to say that George W. Bush probably did more for development in Africa than Barack Obama has done. That should change. President Obama needs to renew our focus on building ties, increasing trade and supporting development and governance reform in Africa. Latin America could also use a little love. As Michael Shifter has argued, a sensible Latin America policy would require the United States to get serious about immigration reform and be open to rethinking the "prohibitionist approach to and criminalization of drug consumption." Those are tough issues to tackle politically -- but a second-term president is in a better position to take a few risks.
5. Get serious about climate change and green energy.
Faced with congressional apathy and opposition, President Obama allowed his climate agenda to languish in his first term. But when it comes to significant long-term threats to the United States, climate change is way up there: the economic costs will be staggering, and climate change is also likely to cause instability and conflict in already vulnerable parts of the world. The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy may increase the national will to take climate change seriously: while no one can claim that Sandy was "caused" by climate change, most scientists agree that climate change is likely to usher in an era of ever more powerful storms and ever less predictable weather. That's an opportunity to return climate change to the top of the national agenda, and Obama should seize it.
6. Prepare for a world in which relative U.S. power is reduced.
Yes, I know we're all supposed to pretend that America is still a rising power, but the empirical evidence suggests otherwise. Our decline in power is both relative and absolute: in part, we're less powerful simply because other states -- many of them our allies and partners -- are gaining strength and stepping into leadership roles. That's a good thing, not a bad thing. Our power is also declining because of increasing global interconnectedness -- the United States is no longer the sole architect of its own destiny. That's not good or bad -- it's just a fact.
But we're also declining because our domestic political process is broken, our regulatory process is broken, and we've stopped investing in the basics: education, infrastructure, health, research. I won't recite all the usual statistics about diminishing life expectancy, higher infant and maternal mortality rates, and the appalling number of Americans who can't even find their own country on a map, but the evidence is there, and it's depressing.
Domestically, President Obama will have to struggle to turn things around on some of those issues -- the Affordable Care Act was a decent start -- but America's decline also has implications for our foreign policy. In a world so interconnected -- in which communication and transportation innovations have diminished the salience of state borders, new viruses (biological or cyber) can go global in days or weeks, and financial meltdowns can spread almost instantaneously -- the United States needs to invest in a robust and equitable system of international laws and institutions. Strong and autonomous states don't need international law as much as weak states...but we're getting weaker, and no one's autonomous anymore.
President Obama doesn't need to win any more elections. If he wants to help ensure a stable and prosperous future for the United States, he should push the nation to abandon our delusions of permanent superiority. We still have disproportionate wealth and power, but we're running out of time: we need to act now to create an international system that will still protect us as our power declines.