Last week, embattled U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice took herself out of the running for Secretary of State as Hillary Clinton’s successor. It did not take long for the rumor mill to pick up that President Obama is leaning toward Senator John Kerry (D-MA) for the post.

Though Rice did not acknowledge any misjudgment as far as the Benghazi affair is concerned, she did show a sense of realism when she cited “urgent national priorities—creating jobs, growing our economy, addressing our deficit, reforming our immigration system and protecting our national security” as issues that an ugly confirmation battle would distract from.

The successor to Hillary Clinton will face a long list of pressing foreign policy issues:

  • Iran’s uranium enrichment efforts. Tehran is now closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon than it was four years ago. It also continues to support terrorism and abuse the human rights of its own people.
  • The civil war in Syria. The U.S. should accelerate the fall of the Assad regime and help shape a stable post-Assad Syria that poses no threat to its neighbors.
  • North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats. Obama’s “strategic patience” policy has not induced North Korea to comply with its denuclearization commitments, nor has it prevented Pyongyang’s long-range missile advancements. A new approach is needed.
  • Stabilizing and cementing progress following the “Arab Spring.” The U.S. should prod Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, and other countries to make successful transitions to stable democracy.
  • Allied security contributions. The Asia pivot strategy requires greater South Korean, Japanese, and Australian security contributions. The U.S. will need to build strategic relationships with new leaders in Japan and South Korea that encompass diplomatic, security, and economic components.
  • South Korean–Japanese relations. Improving bilateral relations would enable the U.S. and its allies to better focus on the growing Chinese and North Korean security threats.
  • Africa. The U.S. should develop an original strategy for Africa that reflects the changing dynamics of the continent, especially concerning security, trade, and investment.
  • NATO’s future. After 2015, post-Afghanistan NATO should get back to its main purposes of defense and not out-of-area operations. It should reassure European allies, especially in the East, that interoperability, joint training, etc. will still continue after combat operations in Afghanistan end.
  • The Special Relationship. Relations with our closest ally, the U.K., took a major hit during Obama’s first term. The next Secretary of State will have some fence-mending to do.
  • Relations with Russia following the failure of the “reset” policy. The government of President Vladimir Putin is increasingly pushing back at the United States. This fall, three venerable U.S. organizations—Radio Liberty, USAID, and the International Republican Institute—have been kicked out by the Russian government, accused of political meddling. We need a realistic reset of U.S. policy in this light.
  • Latin America. Manifestations of anti-Americanism in the Americas are increasing.
  • The State Department’s counterterrorism communication. As we saw in Benghazi, the menace of radical Islam remains alive, especially throughout North Africa.
  • Trans-Pacific Partnership. In terms of long-term American influence, this free trade agreement under negotiation is the single most important policy option presently available.
  • Free trade partnerships in general. After allowing free trade issues to languish, the President submitted the pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama to Congress in October 2011. Free trade needs more attention in Obama’s second term.

The list is lengthy, but it reflects the neglect of serious international challenges under the first Obama term. There is much that urgently needs to be done to reclaim America’s global leadership position.