What Can Obama Do?
With the US mid-term elections behind him President Obama has to carefully consider what to do next, while he hopes for a 1996 style comeback George Friedman suggests that Obama would be better served by looking at how Reagan bounced back after his mid-term defeat in 1982. Of course the threat of a double dip recession is real and might easily prove his downfall, but after 2 years of little change in foreign policy and increasingly confusing or even non-existent messages coming from the US this might indeed be the time for some fresh agenda setting and Obama finally taking up a leadership position on issues that may no longer wait, especially as they can smell blood in the water.
U.S. President Barack Obama hopes that the Republicans prove rigidly ideological. In 1994, after the Republicans won a similar victory over Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich attempted to use the speakership to craft national policy. Clinton ran for re-election in 1996 against Gingrich rather than the actual Republican candidate, Bob Dole; Clinton made Gingrich the issue, and he won. Obama hopes for the same opportunity to recoup. The new speaker, John Boehner, already has indicated that he does not intend to play Gingrich but rather is prepared to find compromises. Since Tea Party members are not close to forming a majority of the Republican Party in the House, Boehner is likely to get his way.
Another way to look at this is that the United States remains a predominantly right-of-center country. Obama won a substantial victory in 2008, but he did not change the architecture of American politics. Almost 48 percent of voters voted against him.
Foreign Policy and Obama’s Campaign Position
The most important thing about his campaign was the difference between what he said he would do and what his supporters heard him saying he would do.
Obama wanted to change global perceptions of the United States as a unilateral global power to one that would participate as an equal partner with the rest of the world.
The Europeans were particularly jubilant at his election.
The Europeans saw Bush as bullying, unsophisticated and dangerous. Bush in turn saw allies’ unwillingness to share the burdens of a war as meaning they were not in fact allies. He considered so-called “Old Europe” as uncooperative and unwilling to repay past debts.
Though they thought Obama would allow them a greater say in U.S. policy — and, above all, ask them for less — Obama in fact argued that the Europeans would be more likely to provide assistance to the United States if Washington was more collaborative with the Europeans.
Europeans discovered that Obama was simply another U.S. president.
Campaign rhetoric notwithstanding, Obama’s position on Iraq consisted of slightly changing Bush’s withdrawal timetable. In Afghanistan, his strategy was to increase troop levels beyond what Bush would consider. Toward Iran, his policy has been the same as Bush’s: sanctions with a hint of something later.
Why Obama Believed in a Reset Button
Why did Obama believe that he was changing relations when in fact his policies were not significantly different from Bush’s policies?
The answer is that Obama seemed to believe the essential U.S. problem with the world was rhetorical. The United States had not carefully explained itself, and in not explaining itself, the United States appeared arrogant.
Obama seemed to believe that the policies did not matter as much as the sensibility that surrounded the policies.
The idea that nations weren’t designed to trust or like one another, but rather pursued their interests with impersonal force, was alien to him. And so he thought he could explain the United States to the Muslims without changing U.S. policy and win the day.
U.S. policies in the Middle East remain intact, Guantanamo is still open, and most of the policies Obama opposed in his campaign are still there, offending the world much as they did under Bush. Moreover, the U.S. relationship with China has worsened, and while the U.S. relationship with Russia has appeared to improve, this is mostly atmospherics.
Global Expectations and Obama’s Challenge
the global perception of Obama today is as a leader given to rhetoric that doesn’t live up to its promise.
In that sense, he is seen as naive and, worse, as indecisive and unimaginative.
Obama doesn’t seem to be there. By that he meant that Obama does not seem to occupy the American presidency and that the United States he governs does not seem like a force to be reckoned with. Decisions that other leaders wait for the United States to make don’t get made, the authority of U.S. emissaries is uncertain, the U.S. defense and state departments say different things, and serious issues are left unaddressed.
Obama has spent two years on the trajectory in place when he was elected, having made few if any significant shifts. Inertia is not a bad thing in policy, as change for its own sake is dangerous.
Obama comes out of this election severely weakened domestically. If he continues his trajectory, the rest of the world will perceive him as a crippled president, something he needn’t be in foreign policy matters. Obama can no longer control Congress, but he still controls foreign policy. He could emerge from this defeat as a powerful foreign policy president, acting decisively in Afghanistan and beyond.
If he doesn’t, global events will begin unfolding without recourse to the United States, and issues held in check will no longer remain quiet.
"The World Looks at Obama After the U.S. Midterm Election is republished with permission of STRATFOR."Read more at www.stratfor.com