Final victor faces tough challenges on global stage

The winner of this gruelling and bitterly contested presidential race will have little time to bask in their achievement.

The White House’s next inhabitant faces enormous challenges on the domestic front, and perhaps even greater ones abroad.

Any honeymoon period will depend on a swift turnaround in the US’s economic fortunes.

The superpower has yet to recover her mojo in the wake of the credit crunch, with sluggish growth, unemployment running at nearly 8%, and sky-high debt.

America’s economic dominance is also under threat from emerging titans such as China and India, while many traditional trading partners, such as Europe, have major troubles of their own.

Many of these problems require long-term structural solutions, and action by other countries — but the president is still likely to take the hit from his public if there is no quick improvement.

The foreign affairs picture is hardly brighter. Managing the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by 2014 is a delicate task, and when they depart there is a real danger the nation could slide into civil war.

Not only would that mark the 13-year military intervention as a failure, but Pakistan could be further destabilised, setting back efforts to root out extremists.

The stand-off between Iran and the West over its nuclear ambitions has been simmering for years, but there is a sense that the crisis point is approaching.

It is still possible that Tehran could back down rather than risk social unrest as sanctions effectively collapse the economy.

But the regime may step up development of nuclear weapons, viewing that as the best deterrent to foreign intervention.

Some speculate that Iran could fuel conflicts in Gaza or Lebanon, or carry out a threat to block the key Strait of Hormuz oil route.

The new US leader will have to weigh up whether and when to take direct action against the rogue state — or alternatively endorse Israeli strikes.

The fallout from the Arab Spring is set to loom large over the coming years, with concerns about the burgeoning influence of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Middle East and beyond. Deft diplomacy will be needed to maintain America’s influence in countries such as Egypt and Syria, and prevent potential tensions with Israel getting out of hand.

Underlying many of the foreign policy objectives is the terrorist threat. The danger from al Qaeda may have receded, and Osama bin Laden been killed, but with political, social, and economic change engulfing so much of the globe violent extremism will not go away.

Closer to home, Mexico’s escalating war between drugs cartels and the government — estimated by some to have claimed 50,000 lives — has been showing signs of leaking north across the border.

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