Everything was supposed to get better. Obama wanted to change America; indeed, change the whole world. In the electoral campaign of 2008 he promised the Americans sweeping change: closure of the prison camp Guantánamo, fight against climate change, control of the horrendous national debt. But after three years in office the one-time bearer of hope has failed in his central election promises.


Obama’s political balance has turned out negative in the eyes of many Americans. But the 44th U.S. president did not fail at everything. He was able to push through a watered-down variation of his health reform against strong opposition. In foreign policy, he followed up his announcement with deeds, reducing the American nuclear weapon arsenal bit by bit in agreement with Russia. Obama also followed through with the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq, planned for 2014. The killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden by U.S. Special Forces likewise falls in his first term of office. He had to either abandon or could only partly realize other central plans.


Closing Guantánamo


The War On Terror followed the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The Bush government expanded U.S. Navy base Guantánamo Bay to an internment camp. When it became known that inmates were tortured and systematically humiliated, the U.S. came under worldwide criticism.


In the 2007-08 electoral campaign, Obama declared closing Guantánamo one of his central campaign promises. Two days after taking office, he announced that the controversial military prison would be closed within a year. But it never came to that: First his plan failed amid massive opposition from Congress, and then on March 8, 2011, Obama signed a momentous decree. With this he approved the permanent internment of 48 prisoners, and closing Guantánamo shifted far into the future.


Controlling the National Debt


The U.S. has long been considered the Indebted States of America. The liabilities have run up to more than $15 trillion, translating to 99 percent of the gross domestic product. The per capita debt stands at about $50,000 (approximately €38,000). The racing national debt clock can be seen here.


Obama inherited a high mountain of debt from his predecessor George W. Bush. Two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as drastic tax reductions for top earners had brought the formerly balanced budget into a considerable imbalance. Then came a tough recession that was triggered by the housing crisis in 2007. Obama had stepped up to stimulate the economy after the worst recession in 80 years. But even a weighty $814 billion stimulus package did not bring the hoped-for turn. According to data from the American Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in January was 8.3 percent.


Fight Against Climate Change


Together with China, the U.S. is the world’s largest environmental offender. Obama felt compelled to change this and strove to take a global leadership role. If his suggestions had become reality, it would have meant a radical turning point in American climate policy.


But Obama’s high ambitions were heavily dampened at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Brussels. The Nobel Peace Prize winner declared himself prepared to lower the CO2 emissions 17 percent by 2020. But the emerging nations China and India did not give a binding agreement.


At home, in the U.S., resistance was also stirring. Leading Republicans do not believe that humans are responsible for global warming or view environmental protection as a niche issue. Besides, they fear for the U.S. industrial base in the implementation of ambitious environmental protection goals. Republican senators blocked Obama’s energy bill in July 2010. And he failed, once again.


Obama — President of All Americans?


“Yes, we can” — this mantra from Obama’s election campaign did not only stand for economic and political change. With this gesture, Obama promised to unite the divided society once again. This promise, too, was pivotal for the grassroots Obama mania and helped him to an election victory.


Yet three years later, the reality is sobering: In spite of Obama’s politics, America is a divided country. The social extremes have become larger. The arch-conservative tea party on the one side and the Occupy Wall Street on the other side lends insight into the societal acid test that this country must face. However, it must be mentioned here that the Republicans have refused any compromise with the Democrats in almost all important questions because everything else is subordinate to one goal: to drive Obama out of the White House.