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Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Germany

Already Gone Down in History

By Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger

Translated By Tania Struetzel

13 November 2012

Edited by Ketu­rah Hetrick

Germany - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Original Article (German)

Whether Barack Obama goes down in history as a great president of the United States will be partially decided by his second term foreign policy.

Barack Obama will definitely be going down in history: He is the first black U.S. president, and simply for that reason, his presidency is historical. By the way, he is only the second Democrat since World War II who has been entrusted with a second term by his electorate. But will Obama later be honored as a great president, regardless of the health care reform?

Whether this is the case could be decided by his budgetary and financial policies. If his bipartisan rhetoric is matched by his actions, and if his fiscal policy follows a reasonable course of consolidation, it would be more than a small down payment.

The United States cannot accumulate more and more debt without losing its ability to act and forfeiting its superpower status. Obama, therefore, must demonstrate leadership skills and the ability to compromise when dealing with the opposition, which is not planning on sacrificing its own principles on the very first occasion.

Obama could also gain fame through his foreign and international policy. It would not be unusual for a re-elected president to attempt to satisfy his ambition beyond his own borders. Obama has repeatedly asserted that the country he wants to rebuild is the United States. This can be understood as a metaphor for his priorities. After all, foreign policy played only a marginal role during the election campaign.

However, the world will not do Obama the favor of allowing him work on his to-do list slowly. It might challenge him even more than during his first four years. Who knows, maybe that even plays into his hand, simply because of the balance of power in Washington.

Many conflicts await Obama in the Middle East. The Syrian civil war threatens to become a war of attrition, and various actors are attempting to shape the war’s outcome before Assad’s regime is overthrown. There is also the Iranian nuclear issue. Obama has asserted several times that he would not accept the nuclear armament of Iran and that a containment policy is not an option. As a result, he might try to use direct and indirect negotiations combined with sanctions to convince the Iranian leadership to abandon their program. Should this fail, the question of military intervention will be posed anew and become real. The hope that Obama’s answer would be no and that he shows Israel its limits could prove delusional.

Perhaps he will nevertheless remember that he once was awarded the Nobel Prize. The laurels given in advance have withered. Why not invest once more in an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians? With former President Clinton, Obama would have an important and charismatic mediator.

In the coming years, the United States will continue to pay great attention to the development of China. This makes sense, because Beijing has a new government, and doing so corresponds to its strategic policy orientation. The rise of China and the development of other countries touch on U.S. interests in fundamental ways. The fact that Asia is Obama’s first foreign destination following his re-election emphasizes the importance of the region.

More Empathy for Europe?

And what happens to Old Europe? Obama is not an Atlanticist, and he will not become one. One needs not lament America’s increased focus on the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region. Yet there could be a bit more empathy for and attention paid to Europe.

Above all, negotiations about an Atlantic free trade zone could finally begin. A large Atlantic economic region would spark enough growth that one wonders why it has not been seriously considered yet. Such an agreement would politically mobilize and energize the Atlantic relationship that has, after all, begun aging.

Obama could thus repay the European jubilation over his reelection. He only has to say: Yes, I do! The Europeans have long said yes.



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