"There has to be a representation of those who are on the front lines, fighting and dying today to obtain their freedom," Clinton said Oct. 31.
On another front, managing the military drawdown in Afghanistan -- something that was rarely discussed in the presidential election campaign -- will be another challenge.
Afghan security forces have been stood up; they are more numerous and more capable than four years ago. But two years before the scheduled withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops, the Kabul government looks fragile and the Taliban undaunted. Critics have voiced concerns that the publicly announced withdrawal date only lets the Taliban know how long it must hold out before it can make another bid for resurgence.
Efforts to wean the "good" Taliban off the battlefield and into negotiations has so far gone nowhere. For Obama, whose first campaign stressed winning the war in Afghanistan and getting out of Iraq, the collapse of a government supported by so many billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars would be a humiliating reverse.
Last month, the International Crisis Group said the outlook was far from assuring.
"Demonstrating at least will to ensure clean elections (in Afghanistan in 2014) could forge a degree of national consensus and boost popular confidence, but steps toward a stable transition must begin now to prevent a precipitous slide toward state collapse. Time is running out," the group said.
Different problems, same solution
Whether it's Syria, Iran or the fiscal cliff, Obama must use the same principles to find a solution: develop a dialogue, find common ground, exploit opportunities and occasionally employ a well-calibrated threat.
That's what happened in 1997, when the Clinton administration reached a deal with the Republican congressional leadership to reduce the federal deficit and achieve a balanced budget in five years. The deal cut spending, and it cut taxes by $91 billion over five years -- while allowing the debt ceiling to rise to $5.95 trillion.
"We have come to an agreement that will lead us to less Washington spending, to tax relief for working Americans, to security for our senior citizens, and less dependency on government, more responsibility, and opportunity for individuals, communities, and states," said former Sen. Trent Lott, then the Republican leader in the Senate.
Ahhh, the good old days.
Now the statutory debt ceiling is at $16.4 trillion, with no sign of a deal on taxes or spending.