And as much as Obama might like the world to allow the United States the space to turn its attention to domestic needs, the truth is that the world continues to look to US leadership.
The Gaza cease-fire in late November between Israel and Hamas, reached with the decisive involvement of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, demonstrated how the US continues to be a critical – some would say indispensable – player in international affairs.
"The prominent role Clinton played ... makes clear that the US is still the most critical player for addressing most of the world's disputes," Mr. Kupchan says.
But given the president's sense of urgent domestic priorities, even as the world presents a range of pressing challenges, Americans shouldn't expect any dramatic foreign-policy initiatives from Obama – on the order of the Israeli-Palestinian peace bid he launched in the first week of his first term – right off the bat in the second term, some political experts say.
"The president laid out his agenda in his victory speech, when he talked about priorities like continuing the economic recovery, avoiding the 'fiscal cliff,' and getting people back to work; so he made it clear he'll be investing his political capital in those kinds of domestic battles," says Mark Siegel, a former deputy assistant to the president in the Jimmy Carter White House who is now a partner at Locke Lord Strategies in Washington.