James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Week: Barack Obama Is Inaugurated, Shinzo Abe Visits Southeast Asia, and Israel and Jordan Vote

by James M. Lindsay
January 18, 2013

The U.S. Capitol prepares for President Obama's second inauguration with a dress rehearsal on January 13, 2013 (Mike Theiler/Courtesy Reuters). The U.S. Capitol prepared for President Obama's second inauguration with a dress rehearsal on January 13, 2013 (Mike Theiler/Courtesy Reuters).

The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed Obama’s second inauguration; Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s tour of Southeast Asia; and next week’s elections in Israel and Jordan

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The highlights:

  • Barack Obama will take the oath of office for his second term on Sunday and give his second inaugural address on Monday. The start of Obama’s second term has been accompanied by speculation that he will be spending more time on foreign policy over the next four years. There is an element of truth in such talk: presidents have more leeway in foreign policy than in domestic policy, and their political influence at home declines in their second term as the perception grows that they are a lame duck. But domestic politics will continue to claim a large chunk of Obama’s time in the years to come, with the looming battles over the national debt, gun control, and immigration being the most obvious examples. And on one critical foreign policy issue, Afghanistan, Obama is looking to do less and not more.
  • Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe is on a four-day trip that is taking him to Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia. It’s his first trip abroad since returning to the prime minister’s office. He says that he is hoping to use the visit to “deepen cooperation in economics, energy and national security with ASEAN.” The public events on the schedule will likely emphasize the first two items on that list, while the third item will likely figure prominently in the private conversations. Abe is looking to build support in Asia to counter China’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy. Tensions between Tokyo and Beijing have grown in recent weeks over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, and many Southeast Asian nations have their own maritime disputes with China. The problem that Abe will confront is the reluctance in the region to take overt steps that will anger Beijing and possibly invite Chinese retaliation.
  • Israelis go to the polls next Tuesday to fill seats in Israel’s 120-member parliament, the Knesset. The results aren’t expected to produce significant change in the orientation of the Israeli government, especially when it comes to foreign policy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party are favored to win a plurality but not a majority of the seats in the Knesset, forcing them to build a coalition government by allying with other parties in the Knesset. (Nearly three dozen parties are on the ballot in Israel.) Iran is likely to remain Prime Minister Netanyahu’s primary foreign policy concern, and he has given no signs that he intends to change his approach to dealing with the Palestinians.
  • The day after Israel holds its elections, voters in neighboring Jordan will be going to the polls as well. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has made the elections the centerpiece of two years of reforms aimed at preventing a popular uprising like those in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. However, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic Action Front Party is boycotting the election and rejecting the King’s reforms. That raises questions about whether average Jordanians will see the vote as a positive development or a sham election. The stakes in Jordan are high. The Jordanian economy is struggling, Amman is trying to keep Syrian refugees from coming across the border, and divisions persist between Jordanians of Bedouin and Palestinian descent.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is David Cameron. My Figure of the Week is 2,500. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

President Obama is sworn in for second term: The official website for the inauguration details the official events of inauguration day. The Hill reports that Monday’s celebration will have smaller crowds and fewer festivities than the 2009 inauguration. USA Today covers the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s difficulties attracting large donors and hitting its $50 million fundraising target. Forbes India surveys international expectations for Obama’s second term.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe finishes a trip to Southeast Asia: The Wall Street Journal describes the scope of Japan’s diplomatic efforts in the weeks since Abe took office. Reuters writes that Abe had originally planned to make Washington the destination of his first official visit. The Wall Street Journal’s Japan Real Time highlights Abe’s controversial foreign policy views and suspicions about Chinese naval ambitions.

Israel holds elections for the Nineteenth Knesset: The Congressional Research Service reports on the weakening of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu alliance. BBC News analyzes Netanyahu’s motivations for calling for elections nine months early. Reuters lists the most prominent parties running for parliamentary seats. Foreign Policy analyzes Israeli identity politics and suggests that this election is really “about nothing.”

Jordan holds parliamentary elections: Time draws attention to how regional instability affects Jordanian politics. The Washington Post reports on the boycotting of elections by the Islamic Action Front. The Christian Science Monitor writes that the Jordanian government has recently raised fuel prices and lowered cigarette prices, drawing attention away from politics.

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