Like a monk fixated on his own navel, the discussion in previews of our political scene leading up to the apocalyptic 2012 election is entirely focused on the upcoming battle royale/gridlock over domestic issues like the budget, the debt limit, undoing the limited progress made last year in health care, and efforts to create more job (whatever those might be). It occurs to me, though, that the most important developments in the next year are likely to be in the fields of diplomacy and "diplomacy by other means" (also known as war).
After all, the challenges are major: China's raising interest rates, leading the rest of the world to wonder how that will effect the economic recovery; Israel and Palestine have broken off talks, and the danger of renewed conflict seems to be rising; in Pakistan, the key country in our efforts to prevent global terrorism, the government has fallen (and doesn't seem to be able to get up), and Punjab's governor was just assassinated because he dared to advocate releasing a Christian woman condemned to death for blasphemy; North Korea threatens South Korea, and South Korea threatens to retaliate this time; Iran and the world continue on a slow path toward a massive collision; the nations of the world will try to follow on the moderate successes of the global warming summit in Cancun, leading to the one next year in Durban; and that's not even to mention the challenges facing us in various African locales, or those from our continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I would argue that in the next 12-18 months President Obama will spend more time tackling these challenges, and less dealing with the wrangling on Capitol Hill, and that his performance in foreign and military policy are a much better measure of his Administration's value, and the degree he deserves to be re-elected, than his "ability to create jobs" or to herd the cats in Congress.
And, fortunately, I see no reason to doubt the ability he and his team will bring to these problems. Success in some or all is uncertain, but in this realm Obama will be able to operate relatively unimpeded.