The U.S. president governs weakly and is devoid of ideas. In the past three years none of his great reforms has been implemented, and U.S. foreign policy plods along. Barack Obama operates according to the motto: “Let’s see what the next day brings.” Thus, even the laughingstocks of the Republican Party could become a threat to him.
It hasn’t been that long since the summit in Cannes where Barack Obama gave the Europeans suggestions on how to decisively control the Euro crisis. These suggestions were not well received among the European heads of state simply because Obama is no longer highly regarded. Certainly, the American president is respected as a matter of principle, nearly independently of his person, because he still holds the most important public office in the world. Beyond this important role, however, Obama has been a great disappointment over the past few years.
One remembers the high praise with which Obama stepped into office. His popularity ratings were enormous, particularly in Germany. This was connected to the fact that he took over from the not only unfortunate, but also largely incapable, George W. Bush. On the other hand, the great rhetorician Obama was considered a sort of "Kennedy of the 21st century.”
He conveyed the impression that he embodied that shift called change, by himself, that the Americans long for every four (and sometimes every eight) years. Europe’s love affair with Obama, a one-sided projection of great hope, was so passionate at the beginning that he was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — without having accomplished anything other than being elected.
At the end of the third year of his presidency, Obama is at best one of those average presidents who govern the White House time and time again. He even ranks among those who were below average, a fact that is reflected in poll results. His poll rankings are bad, so bad that he must fear for his re-election — even though the Republicans until now have only been able to summon up laughingstocks instead of true campaign rivals.
In domestic policy, Obama has not succeeded in implementing his great promises of reform. Americans are not doing much better today than they were during Bush’s presidency. Almost every presidential candidate portrays himself as an outsider who will clean up Washington’s dirty politics. Naturally, every president then becomes a part of Washington politics.
If he is politically talented and serious, he can successfully alternate between the two roles. Most recently this was accomplished by Bill Clinton, full-blooded politician and rogue, who pushed through several of his projects despite some hostile opposition and who at least understood how to organize compromise.
Obama also faces hostile opposition today that is worse than it was in Clinton’s time and that, for the most part, is coming from angry citizens (this is the main reason for the nightmarish condition of the fragmented Republican Party). But unlike Clinton, Obama lacks the ability to adequately deal with the Washington “machine” and Congress.
The “Veto Hansel” of Washington
The failure of the so-called supercommittee of Republicans and Democrats to reduce the debt is proof of the inadequacy of Congress as well as evidence of the poisonous atmosphere in Washington. A good president, however, would have tried almost anything to foster a compromise and not, as demonstrated by Obama, taken on the role of the “Veto Hansel” of Washington.
In foreign policy, it does not look much better. Never before in recent history has the U.S. played a role of so little importance as it does now. That also is because Obama, like several presidents before him, considers the orientation toward the Pacific to be an original and fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy.
Yes, interest in Europe — outside of the economic crisis policy — has waned in the U.S. That doesn’t matter all that much because the reverse is also true. It is nice, when one is on such good terms. But the security-induced dependency of the second half of the 20th century between Western Europe and the U.S. is history. German foreign policy today is first and foremost in politics within Europe. What the European policy of Obama looks like is hard to say; he doesn’t have a policy on Germany.
Most clearly visible is the foreign policy shift in the Middle East. Obama conducts a policy of disengagement between Kabul and Tripoli, not only militarily, but unfortunately also politically. For understandable reasons he wants to reduce the military involvement of America in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the same time, the political engagement in the Middle East conflict plods along. The Arab Spring has little to thank America for; the Libyans wave the tricolor flag, not the Stars and Stripes.
It almost appears that Obama, the Democrat, is conducting a form of recessive foreign policy that one would associate with “America-first” Republicans. Presumably, this is not a precept of the Obama administration, but rather one that operates according to the motto: “Let’s see what the next day brings.” This motto fits a president who does not govern very effectively but rather nonchalantly.