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After a hard and bitter campaign, Barack Obama has prevailed over Mitt Romney. His majority since the earlier presidential win has eroded, but Obama has managed to maintain an astounding lead over his rival in the electoral college. This was in no small measure due to his victory in key battleground states of Ohio and Virginia.

As in much of American politics, this was not a simple one-issue win: race, economic anxieties, gender and class, all played a part in the outcome. The results confirmed, once again, a well-known truth that the US is a deeply divided country. Most of the hinterland states—among them the Deep South (Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina)—voted solidly for Romney. It was the coasts—east and west—and the Great Lakes region—that saved the day for Obama. This reaffirmation of political geography has its own problems: the Republicans continue to hold the House of Representatives and the Democrats the Senate. Unless the president and the Republican Party try and forge a bipartisan consensus over key issues—managing the fiscal cliff and immigration law being just two—the US could be in for a bruising future.

Morally, of course, Romney’s defeat and the perilous economic condition of the US should give the Republicans pause. But the combined might of a plutocracy—Wall Street, the residents of the so-called Super-Zips and other interests—and militant grassroots conservatives (the Tea Party republicans), make this an uncertain proposition. In fact, the more obdurate sections of American opinion have already sounded a clarion call for waging the next battle, in 2016.

What the US does domestically is, of course, its own business. But the manner in which the world has been stitched together after the end of the Cold War—immense degree of capital mobility and ever greater economic interdependence—makes the fate of the US a global concern. It is true that the US is no longer the global “demander of last resort" and is unlikely to return to that state for foreseeable future, if it can at all. But any economic upheaval in the US has the potential to tip the world into recession or even depression.

Hence, what Obama does now will make a difference to the world. If he is able to mount a robust spending programme to kick-start the economy as economists such as Paul Krugman have demanded, he may be able to get things moving. This, however, is unlikely to be so simple. In the end, a middle of the road bargain that does not shift the economic equilibrium decisively is likely.

If domestically Obama is likely to be cramped, what about the American ledger globally? From Ankara to Tokyo, a second Obama administration has a very different meaning. Consider the Middle East. Perhaps this is one area where his second term may see changes. Freed of the electoral pressure that Israel can exert—via the Jewish lobby in the US—he may try, once again, to go in for a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian tangle. Obama did try this course in 2009—it did not work. This has more to do with the mountain of mistrust between Iran and the US. But unless Tehran crosses American (and not Israeli) red lines, diplomacy and not war is likely to prevail north of the Zagaros Mountains.

Paradoxically, this may lead to US military intervention, direct or indirect, in Syria as a device to put pressure on Iran. This does not have to be a boots on the ground situation, but aerial bombardment is possible. He may also end up asking Sunni countries—Turkey and Saudi Arabia are prime candidates—to act as proxies. In the end, of course, the calculus is likely to boil down between trying to prevent a radical regime taking over in Damascus and ensuring that Tehran is reasonable.

If anxiety will be the predominant emotion in the Middle East, relief is now palpable in Beijing. Had Romney entered 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he would have been an unknown quantity to Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang—the new leaders of China. That would have made the world a more uncertain place. Now, one side of that equation remains unchanged: Obama is back. This is not the best of the worlds for Beijing—after all Obama will continue with his military “pivot" towards East Asia. The usual irritants—trade, currency and the like—will persist, but for the most part matters will continue as before.

What about India? The situation is likely to remain what it is now: muddled. Regular irritation over outsourcing will persist. Strategically, matters will continue as before—friendly in a low-key manner.

Much of this will be due to two factors. A president in his second term is likely to go in for so-called legacy enhancing activities. Hence, the possible search for a deal with Iran. Elsewhere, serious financial cramping prevents any military adventures, hence the stasis in East Asia—barring a holding operation to prevent Beijing’s outright annexation of what it claims as its own—and elsewhere.

Will Barack Obama be a different president in his second term?

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