WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday morning, as many Americans sifted through the voter data and exit poll numbers of President Barack Obama's reelection the night before, the Twitter feeds of close watchers of Yemen lit up with reports of another sort of presidential event: an apparent U.S. drone strike had killed several individuals in that country.
There was no way of being certain if the strike was indeed American, or for that matter if it was a drone strike at all, although it had all the markings of one.
"All signs (after dark, suspicions of locals, target) point to Sanhan strike being a US drone," Yemen-based freelance journalist Adam Baron wrote on Twitter.
Several other analysts concurred.
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. If it were a American strike, of course, it would have to have been authorized by Obama.
Whatever its provenance, the strike served as a macabre reminder of the burdens that Obama faces as he turns his attention away from the campaign and back to the business of being commander in chief.
Obama faces any number of perilous foreign policy and national security challenges with the potential to wreak havoc perhaps greater than any of the domestic issues he must navigate.
The Iranian nuclear standoff looms; China is rising as an economic threat; Israel remains an elusive -- and sometimes combative -- ally.
In Afghanistan, the president faces a struggling war effort, where tens of thousands of American troops remain in harm's way and must be extracted in a way that limits their risk while doing the least damage to the country's solvency. The moment when all U.S. combat troops are scheduled to come home, at the end of 2014, remains a long way off, and there is reason to suspect Obama may attempt to speed up that process.
And in Syria, a civil war that the U.S. has largely watched from the sidelines continues to spiral out of control. Obama has so far shown little interest in plunging head-on into the conflict, but if unrest spreads significantly into other countries in the region, especially in the direction of Israel, the U.S. may find intervention unavoidable.
But every president faces international threats and conflicts. Instead, the issue that may prove most nettlesome and perilous to Obama and his legacy is the persistent threat of radical terrorism, and his preferred tactic for combatting it: targeted assassinations, often by drone.
As it stands now, the Obama administration, which vastly stepped up the use of drones and targeted killings over the past four years, has done little to assuage the concerns of outsiders about the program's legality or utility. Indeed, the drone program's components are so secret that the administration routinely refuses to acknowledge that it even exists.
In a second term, that stonewalling may no longer be possible, particularly as new questions are raised about whether the program is legal, or if it even works. The fact that administration officials have offered justifications for the program in narrow speeches and interviews only adds to that sense of inevitability.
"It's very unclear what the United States is actually doing in Yemen other than they carry out bombings and people on the ground are dying," said Gregory Johnsen, an expert on Al Qaeda in Yemen and the author of a new book on the subject. "Who's dying, whether or not they're actually Al Qaeda -- we just don't know."
Johnsen, who was among those who identified the Wednesday attack as likely being an American drone strike, says the White House has a long way to go to prove to the American public the efficacy of the counter-terrorism drone policy.
"We've had nearly three years of strikes, and in those three years, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula went from a group of 200-300 individuals to a group that most estimate is over 1,000," he said. "So the organization has at least tripled in size."
Johnsen noted that while the U.S. has consistently said they were targeting just a dozen or so specific individuals in Yemen, in the past year alone they have carried out upwards of 50 strikes.
This same idea has been a sore spot in Pakistan as well, where the U.S. also has an expanded drone-based counterterrorism policy.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, when Admiral Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, travelled to Pakistan, he found himself in a heated exchange with his counterpart, Pakistani General Ashfaq Kayani, who wanted to know how the U.S. could still be working through a "top 20" list after hundreds of strikes.
Another problem for the second term frequently cited by many critics of the program, including those who support the limited use of drones, is that the Obama administration has so far failed to create a coherent and transparent legal framework for the use of the technique.
The Washington Post article, written by Greg Miller, described at length what the White House had done instead, creating an internal bureaucratic process called a "disposition matrix," which reportedly lays out the various legal and diplomatic steps that must be undertaken before a suspected militant can be targeted for assassination by drone or other strike.
But, as Micah Zenko, an expert on drone killings at the Council on Foreign Relations, has noted, where accountability is concerned, even this practice essentially boils down to, "Trust us."
They "do institutionalize or cement the framework for government bureaucracy," Zenko told The Huffington Post. "But they don't add anything new in terms of checks. Other than what’s said in closed committee hearings, there's literally no checks and balances on any of this by other branches of government."
"Both the George W. Bush and Obama administration have really dropped the ball on creating a legal and ethical framework," Johnsen added. "That's going to be a real problem for future administrations for years to come."
In a recent appearance on HuffPost Live, the Post's Greg Miller said that while there had been some discussion about the scope of the program within the White House, there has so far been limited room for dissent among high-level decision makers.
"There were a couple dissenters who had a seat at the table," Miller said. "They lost those seats at the table."
Instead, he said discussions early in the Obama administration about what might be the long-term endgame of the drone and targeted killing practice tended to be "dead-end conversations."
"The trouble is, there is no easy alternative," Miller said.
It's a trouble that now burdens Obama for four more years.
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2012 -- Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama waves to supporters following his victory speech on election night in Chicago, Illinois on November 6, 2012. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
2008 -- Barack Obama
Nov. 4, 2008: U.S. president-elect Barack Obama waves at his supporters during his election night victory rally at Grant Park in Chicago. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
2004 -- George W. Bush
In this Nov. 3, 2004 file photo, President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush salute and wave during an election victory rally at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
2000 -- George W. Bush
U.S. Republican presidential candidate and Texas Governor George W. Bush casts his vote in Austin, Texas on November 7, 2000. (PAUL RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
1996 -- Bill Clinton
President Bill Clinton, wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea wave to supporters in front of the Old State House during an election night celebration in Little Rock, Ark. on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 1996. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)
1992 -- Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton and Al Gore celebrate in Little Rock, Arkansas after winning in a landslide election on November 3, 1992. (AP Photo)
1988 -- George H. W. Bush
President-elect George Bush and his family celebrate his victory on November 8,1988 at the Brown Convention Center in Houston. (WALT FRERCK/AFP/Getty Images) <em><strong>CORRECTION:</strong> An earlier version of this slide was titled "George W. Bush." It has been fixed.</em>
1984 -- Ronald Reagan
President Ronald Reagan gives a thumbs-up to supporters at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles as he celebrates his re-election, Nov. 6, 1984, with first lady Nancy Reagan at his side. (AP Photo/File)
1980 -- Ronald Reagan
President-elect Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy wave to well-wishers on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 1980 at Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles after his election victory. (AP Photo)
1976 -- Jimmy Carter
Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter embraces his wife Rosalynn after receiving the final news of his victory in the national general election on November 2, 1976. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
1972 -- Richard Nixon
U.S. President Richard M. Nixon meets at Camp David, Maryland, on November 13, 1972 to discuss the Vietnam situation with Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger (L) and Maj. Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr.(R), Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. (Photo by AFP PHOTO/NATIONAL ARCHIVE/Getty Images)
1968 -- Richard Nixon
President-elect Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Pat, were a picture of joy at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, Nov. 6, 1968, as he thanked campaign workers. At left are David Eisenhower, Julie Nixon's fiance, Julie and her sister Tricia at center. (AP Photo)
1964 -- Lyndon Johnson
President Lyndon Johnson proves he's a pretty good cowhand as he puts his horse, Lady B, through the paces of rounding up a Hereford yearling on his LBJ Ranch near Stonewall, Texas, on November 4, 1964. (AP Photo/Bill Hudson)
1960 -- John F. Kennedy
Caroline Kennedy peeps over the shoulder of her father, Senator John F. Kennedy, as he gave her a piggy-back ride November 9, 1960 at the Kennedy residence in Hyannis Port, Mass. It was the first chance president-elect Kennedy had to relax with his daughter in weeks. (AP Photo)
1956 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower
President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon salute cheering workers and Republicans at GOP election headquarters in Washington, November 7, 1956, after Adlai Stevenson conceded. (AP Photo)
1952 -- Dwight D. Eisenhower
President-elect Dwight Eisenhower and first lady-elect Mamie Eisenhower wave to the cheering, singing crowd in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Commodore in New York City on Nov. 5, 1952 after Gov. Adlai Stevenson conceded defeat. (AP Photo/Matty Zimmerman)
1948 -- Harry S. Truman
U.S. President Harry S. Truman holds up an Election Day edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, which, based on early results, mistakenly announced "Dewey Defeats Truman" on November 4, 1948. The president told well-wishers at St. Louis' Union Station, "That is one for the books!" (AP Photo/Byron Rollins)
1944 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
President Franklin Roosevelt greets a young admirer as he sits outside his home in Hyde Park, N.Y., on election night, November 7, 1944. Behind him stands his daughter, Mrs. Anna Roosevelt Boettinger and the first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. (AP Photo)
1940 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) speaking to a crowd of 25,000 at Madison Square Garden in New York on Nov. 8, 1940, before his sweeping re-election for a third term. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
1936 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
The Republican Governor of Kansas and presidential candidate, Alfred Landon (1887 - 1987) greeting the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) (seated) prior to the presidential elections. Future United States President Harry S. Truman can been seen in the background. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
1932 -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York at his Hyde Park, N.Y. home November 6, 1932, seen at the conclusion of the arduous months of campaigning following his presidential nomination in Chicago. (AP Photo)
1928 -- Herbert Hoover
President-elect Herbert Hoover is seated at a table with wife, Lou, and joined by other family members on Nov. 9, 1928. Standing from left: Allan Hoover; son; Margaret Hoover, with husband, Herbert Hoover, Jr.,at right. Peggy Ann Hoover, daughter of Herbert Hoover Jr., sits with her grandmother. (AP Photo)
1924 -- Calvin Coolidge
U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and first lady Grace Coolidge are shown with their dog at the White House portico in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 5, 1924. (AP Photo)
1920 -- Warren Harding
Senator Warren Harding, with wife Florence and his father George, shown on Aug. 27, 1920. (AP Photo)
1916 -- Woodrow Wilson
Surrounded by crowds, President Woodrow Wilson throws out the first ball at a baseball game in Washington in this 1916 photo. (AP Photo)
1912 -- Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924), the future American president, casts his vote while Governor of New Jersey, on Nov. 14, 1912. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)