Now for the hard part…

President Obama is now coming to the end of the candyman phase of his presidency. That’s the part where he can play to core constituencies and those whose support he would entertain with big gifts — stimulus money, tax cuts, and promises of policy changes. It’s the part where the booty of an election win ...

586981_090408_Obama_a2.jpg
586981_090408_Obama_a2.jpg

President Obama is now coming to the end of the candyman phase of his presidency. That's the part where he can play to core constituencies and those whose support he would entertain with big gifts -- stimulus money, tax cuts, and promises of policy changes. It's the part where the booty of an election win is spread around -- jobs are given to loyal supporters, and foreign policy victories are scored simply by telling a once-disgruntled ally what they've long been waiting to hear.

But now starts the hard part. Now, the president must grapple with the tough part of leading -- where friends don't get what they want, where allies are pushed and prodded and threatened and punished if they don't fall into line. When force is required, and all eyes are on the United States and the policy initiatives that are under fire can no longer be blamed on the last president.

President Obama is now coming to the end of the candyman phase of his presidency. That’s the part where he can play to core constituencies and those whose support he would entertain with big gifts — stimulus money, tax cuts, and promises of policy changes. It’s the part where the booty of an election win is spread around — jobs are given to loyal supporters, and foreign policy victories are scored simply by telling a oncedisgruntled ally what they’ve long been waiting to hear.

But now starts the hard part. Now, the president must grapple with the tough part of leading — where friends don’t get what they want, where allies are pushed and prodded and threatened and punished if they don’t fall into line. When force is required, and all eyes are on the United States and the policy initiatives that are under fire can no longer be blamed on the last president.

To help prepare for this period, here are 10 tough decisions that Obama will face in the very foreseeable future.

1. Cap-and-trade

Will he soon be forced to sacrifice putting a price on carbon for political expediency? Will he actually be willing to trade cap and trade for health care as current conventional wisdom would have it…and then enter into a midterm election year when doing a cap and trade deal may be even harder? Will he be willing to use the classification of carbon as a pollutant as a regulatory bludgeon on this issue hard… and necessary… as that may be on many industries?

2.
Failing economy

When the U.S. economy underperforms estimates in the next few years, will he be willing to increase taxes on middle class taxpayers… or exacerbate class tensions by continuing to place all the burden on the most affluent Americans? Where is he willing to make meaningful cuts? Defense? Entitlements? 

3.
Necessary roughness

He won’t use force in Iran to stop proliferation; that already seems clear. But will he use it to stabilize Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal should it come under siege? Or to stop massive slaughter in Central Africa? Where will he be willing to use force in a place that the U.S. is not already engaged in a conflict?

4.
Walking the walk

Europeans love hearing a U.S. leader talk multilateralism, but they don’t yet seem to realize that when he talks the talk, they have to walk the walk. Will he be willing to confront and pressure them to step up in a way they did not at the last NATO meeting?

5.
Open trade vs. U.S. jobs

How and when will he reconcile his promises to the world to maintain open trading systems and his promises to unions to protect American jobs? Since he can’t, who is he willing to anger when he backs off his competing pledges? 

6.
When the bailouts only go so far…

What will happen when it is clear that GM can’t be saved in its present form and the resulting dislocation will knock tens of thousands of people out of work?

7.
An uncooperative Israel

What happens when ultimately his desire to mediate in the Middle East and to reduce tension runs up against an ally, Israel say, who is not cooperative? Is he willing to pay the political consequences of confronting the Israeli government? What if they are in the right and Hamas or Iran is clearly the problem? Is he willing to pay the political consequences of getting tough on them?

8.
China & Russia

Is the United States willing to accept growing Chinese or Russian influence in the Western Hemisphere due to their engagement and our disengagement? What happens when resource pressures force the United States to say no to big international aid programs at precisely the moment when he and his team want to give more? Is he willing to be unpopular overseas to maintain support at home? 

9.
Wall Street

If it is clear that Wall Street firms can’t recover without paying Wall Street salaries… or that the administration can’t function without actually hiring lobbyists… is he willing to back off his completely understandable but perhaps impractical populist stances on these issues, admit he was wrong and defend a course of action that is unpopular but necessary?

10.
No more Mr. Popular

On what issues is he willing to actually be unpopular? Thoughts? (This is only a partial list of course, and your suggestions are welcome.) Personally, I’m willing to bet that he rises to the test and sooner than you would think.

One good sign from my perspective: the apparent decision to hire Harold and Kumar, Van Wilder and “House” star, Kal Penn, to join his public liaison team. After all, who better to get down into the weeds of an issue or to help the president achieve the high highs promised in the campaign than Kumar? Next up: Neil Patrick Harris for surgeon general (why put all that valuable Doogie Howser experience to waste?)

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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