Obama's return comes with renewed focus on region
Date: November 8 2012
BREATHE a sign of relief, Australia. Had Mitt Romney won, it would have meant an ugly time with our major alliance partner.
Barack Obama, by contrast, will now be judged on a pledge to "pivot" America's attention to this neighbourhood. That will bring its own challenges for Canberra, especially as the US military eyes off extra Australian staging posts.
But Obama's attitudes to the world — and his view of Australia — have become clear over the past four years, giving a predictable basis to engage the US in Asia.
Putting Romney in the Oval Office would have introduced an unknown quality into an already volatile region.
By volatile, read China. Romney looked set to spark a currency war with Beijing out of a misplaced diagnosis of America's economic woes — blaming China for the US increase in debt — and the cost could have plunged the economies of Australia's two major trading partners into crisis.
How well America and China get along is crucial to the temperature in the region and to Australia's prosperity.
Obama will still make demands of allies. His administration will put more pressure on Australia over military spending, for example.
Labor's cuts to defence have rankled Washington, coming despite the Gillard government's regular boast that Australia sailed through the global economic crisis, has low unemployment and an economy "the envy of the world".
Americans are increasingly free with once private complaints that Australia is freeloading on the US's expensive security commitments to the region.
But this criticism would have been even sharper under a Republican president. Romney himself was something of a novice in foreign policy, but the hawks advising him and the Tea Party surrogates on the margins would have been very hard to satisfy. Especially for Wayne Swan, who had already branded them "cranks and crazies".
A Romney presidency would have heralded a more bellicose US policy towards the Middle East, dragging US attention away from Asia but also making demands on Australia over problems a long way from home.
There are personnel questions to settle. With Hillary Clinton expected to step aside, and some of the key officials in the State Department responsible for Asia also likely to go, Australia will need to develop relationships with the next crop of officials responsible for carrying through the promised pivot.
And the Americans are doubtless getting ready for the prospect of change Down Under — perhaps President Obama will welcome a Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the White House some time this term.
Daniel Flitton is senior correspondent.