It is argued that America’s problem lies in the fact that it has a weak president, and that France’s liability is Francois Hollande. Both opinions are wrong. First of all, let’s consider the case of America. Whoever was president today would have to deal with exactly the same limitations of power and influence that Obama is faced with. Whether Franklin D. Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy was in the White House, the leeway for handling drastic political situations would be restricted. The United States is faced with serious political problems; the lack of a consensus on basic issues, the prevalence of extremist elements in the country, and the uncontrolled power of lobbies have rendered the American political system extremely dysfunctional. And of course, there are big fiscal issues, the crisis of the middle class and the gradual decline of the productive base.
America is awakening today to the fact that it is not the sole superpower and that it lacks the ability to fulfill its standing strategic obligations. It should focus on Asia and China in particular, which now clearly constitute a great strategic rival who is viewed with awe. How should the United States go about such a task when at the same time it is faced with the rise of Islamic extremism, which is becoming very dangerous, when Europe’s relations with Russia and Ukraine are floundering, and when it has recently been blatantly ignored by Israel? It would probably be preferable for the United States to extricate itself from Europe, and leave the responsibility for the region’s security to the Europeans. However, nothing like that seems feasible in the immediate future. Obama is aware of the limits on his presidential power while attempting to manage a state in a transitional period. The fact that he is not determined to take military action against Syria or that he is taking a soft approach toward Russia is not a personality trait, but the acknowledgement of an unavoidable fact. He is being accused by critics because that’s what they do. However, the truth is that the American people are in no mood to get involved in the Middle East, let alone in a war with Russia.
As for France, it is not only the Germans, but also other Europeans with positions of responsibilities’ worst nightmare. Hollande is not a strong leader, but even if Charles de Gaulle was in his position, he could hardly fight the laws of gravity that are keeping France grounded. The big structural problems — social policies, demographics, labor relations, immigration policy — are strong political trends no leader can easily buck.
Therefore, if you ask me, it is a typical chicken-and-egg situation. Obama and Hollande are both running two large countries in a downward spiral of decline and recession. Their countries’ weaknesses have resulted in their election as president. It is quite possible that they will be succeeded by ostensibly dynamic leaders who will propose simple solutions to complex issues and most likely resort to demagoguery. That should be the answer of the people, who sense the decline and sometimes seek semi-authoritarian solutions or the soothing effect of populism.