When President George W. Bush was re-elected for a second term in America eight years ago, I remember he used the term ‘political capital’. He felt he had a clear mandate to carry out certain things that he had spoken about during the election campaign. Last week, President Barack Obama won with a clear margin. He can claim he has political capital to carry out many policies, which he and his Democratic Party colleagues have promised the voters to implement during the campaign.

The Congress, the American Parliament, is split with a majority for the Democratic Party in the upper house, the Senate, but the Republican Party has the majority in the lower house, the House of Representatives. Although Obama won clearly over his opponent Governor Mitt Romney, he and the Democrats still have to negotiate and compromise with the Republicans to pass laws in the Congress. Obama has already indicated that he wants higher taxation to keep the government coffers liquid and meet obligations and avoid insolvency and the USA falling off the ‘Fiscal Cliff’, risking another recession.

America’s recovery after the recession, which began about four years ago, has been slower than hoped; the unemployment rate remains high, and unacceptably high in certain subgroups and geographical areas. The unemployment situation in Europe, indeed in Greece, Spain and Portugal, is worse, with severe consequences for ordinary people. In the rest of the European Union countries, the unemployment situation may also sometimes be worse than in America, but due to a much better safety net with unemployment benefits and social health and other services, the consequences are cushioned and ordinary people are not as badly affected.

Obama’s main mandate, his political capital, is to continue to work for reduced - not growing - inequalities among people in America. That was also the focus of his campaign when he won his first presidential term. The recession left little room for keeping that campaign promise, although inequalities would most likely have grown, at least in the short-term, if the Republicans had been in power.

The Republicans argue that it is the private sector that creates employment, which is correct, too! They argue that taxes should be lower to make the private sector companies competitive and not to lose out to foreign companies, which nowadays would often mean local and foreign companies in China. That would lead to lower unemployment, too, and, hence, less need for the government allocating more unemployment benefits.

The problem in all countries, not least in the developed economies in the West, is that the government sector has become very large, supporting a number of sectors that it, in theory, could be left to the private sector, such as education and health services. In the West, the government regulations and the government budgets increased tremendously in the last century. In the recent decades, it is more mixed, with privatisation too in many fields.

It is the private sector that must create most of the future employment. Although the government’s power is limited in making this happen, it must find policies that can stimulate the private sector’s job creation. But the government has a major role in seeking ways of creating redistribution of wealth without constant economic growth. This is a field that nobody, but the government can lead, with researchers and innovators in the private sector. Yes, Obama knows this, but will he dare introduce the debate?

America’s two parties, especially the Republican Party, must review their policies as regards the government’s role in general at home and abroad. It includes what ideal values and policies it wishes to recommend worldwide. We should realise that USA’s military, economic, democratic and moral importance remains tremendous. In Obama’s second term, his administration should clarify these issues for the people at home and for all of us worldwide.

Yes, it is true that the American economy needs restructuring and the serious debt problem must be solved; it cannot continue living above its means. But it is still for a while the world’s largest economy, just with a quarter of China’s population. Both countries must take redistribution of wealth seriously. The USA must, indeed, be able to reduce resource consumption without necessarily reducing standards. And both countries must reduce pollution and take environmental issues and global warming seriously - again, an area where the government leadership and regulations are key, controlling and curtailing the private sector.

Obama knows this well, but will he get the Republican Party with him to pass laws? Earlier this year, America experienced the worst draught ever, and the recent storm and floods in New York and the East Coast were further wake-up calls for all.

In the foreign policy fields, there are important issues to reconsider. The ‘war on terror’, as we call it, is the most important field. To what extent is it real and to what extent is it a made-up ‘war’? Who are the enemies really? What causes are there and how should the response be? Can dialogue and inclusion of people, who feel marginalised be the main way of avoiding violent and terrorist actions?

In future, if we cannot stop the growing inequalities in the world, there may be many large groups, who will feel excluded and will use non-parliamentary and even violent actions to voice their grievances. If all such groups and actions are termed terrorist-related, we paint them unfairly, and we may be on a dangerous road towards undemocratic and totalitarian rule.

I am not sure America is the best country to lead this debate, but they must be central in it. I believe the ‘old world’, the European democracies, should take the lead, including the young states in the developing world. In addition, the United Nations must play a much more prominent role in avoiding a permanent ‘Cold War’ mindset.

In the Arab countries, and now in particular in Syria, Obama’s administration has severe challenges. I hope they will not intervene militarily. Generally, I believe that military interventions are more harmful than helpful in securing peace, and they are often rather about economic and other dominance than creating peace.

Iraq and Afghanistan are both examples of that, and we have also seen the terrible suffering of innocent people, fallen soldiers and civilians, physically and mentally injured people, millions becoming refugees, and so on. How many collateral victims can Obama allow, especially when I believe he does not really have a military mind?

Well, I never really know if it is the American President and elected politicians that decide the country’s military policies, or if it is the military establishment and hawks.

The fact that Obama was not able to close Guantanamo prison, as he promised before his first presidential term, proves that the President was sidelined and that he had to let the opinions of hawks rule. For America, or any country, to have people detained without trial, maybe for the rest of their lives, is a serious human rights crime and it diminished the country that does it, and such a country loses its moral leadership.

In Pakistan, we hope that Obama’s policies will become more realistic and practical, and much more in the interest of Pakistan. The policies in the tribal areas are, indeed, harmful to the men, women and children there, in the short and the long-term. Drone attacks cannot be morally or legally justified. I hope Obama will realise that drone attacks are wrong; they harm Pakistanis tremendously and they also reduce America’s standing in the world.

I hope that President Obama’s second term will show his true colours, which I believe we saw less of in the first term than we had expected, based on his original election campaign.

Being a European myself, I hope he implements more social democratic policies, and that he pulls back the ‘world hegemony’ thinking. I am hopeful that Obama will become a better President in the second term for America at home and for the world, including for Pakistan and the region.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.

Email: atlehetland@yahoo.com