If you felt your life was on hold the past week or so, as the U.S. election entered its final stretch, take comfort -- so was the rest of the world, at least at the United Nations. The U.S. political campaign placed a number of U.N. foreign-policy priorities, including Afghanistan, Syria, and Iran, on the backburner.
But within hours of President Barack Obama's reelection, the United States had begun to turn its attention to deferred business, agreeing Wednesday, for instance, to set a date for resumption of negotiations on the establishment of a new arms trade treaty.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, used his congratulatory message to President Obama to draw Washington's attention to four key priorities -- ending the bloodshed in Syria, restarting the Middle East peace process, promoting sustainable development, and tackling climate change -- requiring greater American engagement.
There are a number of areas, including arms control and possibly climate change, where the administration may show renewed vigor in a second term, according to U.N. observers. But they cautioned that movement on a second-term agenda would start slow, given the months it will likely take to put a new foreign policy team in place. The king, said one observer, will be the same, but the royal court will be new.
The administration will face the first test of its standing at the United Nations on Monday, when it will participate in its first competitive election for a seat on the Human Rights Council, facing off with Germany, Greece, Ireland, and Sweden for three Western spots on the U.N.'s main rights body. Washington has been aggressively campaigning for the post, seeking to avert an embarrassing loss. "People are nervous about it; they don't think it in the bag," said one U.N.-based source.
Observers said they did not foresee the administration pursuing a particularly ambitious agenda at the United Nations. Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at New York University's Center on International Cooperation, said he saw little likelihood that the U.S. would move, for instance, to join the International Criminal Court, push for ratification of the Comprehensive [Nuclear] Test Ban Treaty, or press for expansion of the U.N. Security Council. "Just as Obama was burdened with excessive expectations at the start of his first term I think quite a lot of leaders may have excessive expectations of what he will do now that he is reelected," Gowan said.
So, what will a second term Obama administration pull off the backburner and pursue with renewed vigor?
A new U.N. ambassador?
A lot of media attention has focused on the horserace for U.S. secretary of state between Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair John Kerry, (D-MA). But there has been little speculation about who would replace Rice at the United Nations if she moves on to bigger things.
The White House has already begun considering at least two new candidates for the top U.N. job, including Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author who oversees U.N. policy at the White House, and Eileen Donahoe, the U.S. ambassador to the Human Rights Council, according to a source close to the Obama administration.
But that race may have to be put on hold until Obama picks a successor to Hillary Clinton, who plans to step down after the transition. And who knows, maybe Rice will be sticking around for a little while longer.
Several weeks ago, Rice appeared to be the front-runner, but her prospects have reportedly diminished since her public account of the terrorist attack on the Libyan consulate in Benghazi as a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islamic video came under fire, raising the prospects of a contentious Senate confirmation hearing.
Post-election speculation has been all over the map, with the New York Times citing one administration characterizing Rice as "crippled" while Bloomberg News claimed she had emerged as the odds-on favorite. If Obama denies her the top diplomatic post, what else could he offer her that would be better than her current gig? Current U.S. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon is said to want to remain in his job.