Re-elected American presidents often reset their focus to foreign policy when dealings at home with Congress become too contentious. President Barack Obama is moving the other way in seeking to nail down a domestic legacy. But recent events are working to complicate that goal.
Controversies surrounding the president's second-term national security selections have for now brought foreign policy to the forefront – helped along by Republicans who have been having trouble finding footing against the president on domestic issues.
At the same time, Obama's administration has just given its first explicit signal that it may leave no troops in Afghanistan after December 2014. That shift in policy is sure to top the agenda when Obama meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday.
While campaigning for re-election, Obama's vow to bring troops home from Afghanistan drew loud cheers. It's time for nation building "right here at home," he declared. But serious challenges in Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, Egypt and other world hot spots, are competing for his attention.
Republicans are pushing back on Obama's notion of a lighter U.S. military footprint in the world.
And challenges are growing to his choices of former Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as defense secretary and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA.
Hagel, a moderate Republican who has supported Obama politically, is drawing fire from Republicans who question his toughness on Iran and support for Israel. And Brennan's nomination could be held up by opponents demanding that the administration first provide more information about last September's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans.
It remains unclear whether the opposition will grow strong enough to block either nomination. But it is shifting attention, even if briefly, away from talk about fiscal cliffs and the federal debt limit.
Karzai is to meet Thursday with outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department and with departing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at the Pentagon.