By Bruce Stokes, Director of Global Economic Attitudes, Pew Research Center
Special to Chatham House
American presidents tend to prioritize foreign policy in their second term as, unable to run again, they lose political leverage over domestic policy. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush spent much time and energy shoring up their international legacies as their tenure in the Oval Office drew to a close. Furthermore, increased interest in foreign affairs is often concentrated in a president’s last two years in office.
With domestic gridlock now seemingly a permanent fixture in Washington and with pressing international issues on his agenda, Barack Obama may be forced to focus more on foreign policy earlier in his fading tenure than many of his predecessors.
But this could prove particularly difficult for the president because of two powerful domestic factors: the American people’s dramatic loss of faith in his leadership in foreign policy and their unprecedentedly high preoccupation with domestic issues.
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