Obama’s report card
Well, I thought I’d do a post on Obama and see how he’s going. Since Prez Bush wafted off into the Texan sunset, there hasn’t been much in the way of stupid gaffes and encroachment on civil liberties to report on when it comes to the US Prez. True to say, Prez Obama is good at speechifying (love that word!). He looks Presidential, doesn’t trip down the steps of Air Force One and doesn’t drone on about the War on Terror. But frankly, I find him pretty lack lustre. When he was elected, I said I wasn’t won over by him and I’m still not. But I decided to see how he is going nine months or so into his presidency. So time’s up – let’s have a look. The following are my personal views. You may disagree; if so, leave a comment.
Seems the honeymoon might be over and the knives are starting to come out. The dominant question appears to be “is he weak?”. At the Group of 20 summit held in London in April, French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, was said to have muttered to his advisers: “Est-il faible?” (is he weak). He added: “he was elected two months ago and had never run a ministry. There are a certain number of things on which he has no position. And he is not always up to standard on decision-making and efficiency.” I read somewhere that Sarkozy referred to Obama as weak, meek and arrogant. Well, this should augur well for Franco-American relations!
Others are muttering that he is the weakest Prez since Jimmy Carter. Why? As far as I can fathom, a weak US economy makes for a weak US Prez, someone the Saudis have said “no” to twice (regarding Obama’s request to improve relations with Israel). And photos of Obama shaking hands with Venezuelan leader dictator, Hugo Chavez, and receiving the gift of an anti-colonial book frankly draw comparisons with what seemed to be Carter’s modus operandi: kiss and suck up to every dictator in sight. Let’s recall that it was Carter who withdrew US support for the pro-Western Shah of Iran for his alleged human rights violations and, as a result, Iran fell into the hands of the radical Islamist, Ayatollah Khomeini, and basically the whole Middle Eastern region became unstable. Former House Speaker, Newt Gingrich (R), says: “Frankly, this does look a lot like Jimmy Carter. Carter tried weakness, and the world got tougher and tougher, because the predators, the aggressors, the anti-Americans, the dictators – when they sense weakness, they all start pushing ahead.”
I’m not sure though that it gets us very far doing an Obama versus Carter comparison, so I’ll concentrate on the following aspects that interest me about Obama’s presidency. He promised Change We Can Believe In – do we have that change?
- first up, I have to say I have become irritated by his constant apologising for the United States. Yep, sure Bush was a nightmare and US popularity took a nose dive but running around the globe apologising and atoning for things does not make for strong leadership IMHO. He’s apologised to Europe; he’s apologised to the UN; he’s apologised to Cairo. Basically, he’s been on an Apology Tour. It’s one thing to admit that the US might have been a tad arrogant, it’s another thing to go on apologising. Enough already. Get on with making the US a strong nation again.
- far more serious are blunders like the surrender to Moscow over missile defence. Basically, Obama has appeased the Ruskies by scuttling missile defense plans in Eastern Europe just as Iran is nuking up. The Czechs and the Poles (US allies) are rightly pissed about this and see it as a betrayal, leaving them to face an increasingly belligerent Russia. Obama appeared to be taking a tough stand back in April when he said: “Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven.” Yes, well, the reversal of stance is surely leading to the Russians rubbing their hands together in glee and muttering “the US is weak”. And I’m pretty sure the two US allies are thinking “the US is tough on us, what the????”. And Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has basically just given the finger to the US and Obama by saying: “”If I were Obama’s adviser, I would definitely advise him to refrain making this statement [about Iran’s alleged nuclear capability] because it is definitely a mistake”. Let’s recall that this same dude, Ahmadinejad, allegedly participated in the 1979 hostage crisis (the very same crisis that highlighted Carter’s weakness). So not looking good for Obama on the foreign policy front so far.
- then there’s health care reform, the centrepiece of his domestic agenda, which has become bogged down. The US is the only industrialised nation without universal access to health care and Obama’s plan (only really revealed in his speech to Congress on September 9) is to implement universal health care coverage. But Americans don’t seem to be buying his sales pitch and he hasn’t seemed to be in control of the debate. He left the drafting of the legislation largely to Congress, has not been able to achieve Republican support (what happened to his campaign promise of partisan cooperation?) and the result has been ambiguity. There have also been some hysterical claims, such as Obama supposedly suggesting that euthanasia of the elderly may be necessary because it is cost-effective and rumours that “death panels” were a part of his health care reform. So I think he was trying to avoid the Clintons’ mistake of cooking up a detailed health care plan in secret, then presenting it to Congress. But because he hasn’t seemed to be in control of a coherent message, he’s been focusing on the shortcomings of the present health care system – and not articulating his vision well enough. There’s been a lot of waffly talk about broad goals but no detailed analysis of how health care reform will be delivered. So I remain confused.
- he looks like Bush 2.0 – Obama supports warrantless wiretapping and gave legal immunity to to telecommunications companies that cooperated with the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants. Yet, he said during his campaign, no warrantless wiretapping if you elect me. And he is proposing to extend three key provisions of the Patriot Act, which are due to expire in December, 2009.
- Obama’s popularity rating is 46% – basically where it was last month – which means his Health Care reform speech didn’t achieve what maybe he’d hoped. It’s a bit of a slide. In April, his rating was 62% and as President-Elect, he was at 83%. Clearly, the poor chap has a lot on his plate – the biggest global financial crisis to smack us in the face since the 1930s, which has led to a stagnant US economy; and the ongoing conflict in Iraq. But let’s get to Afghanistan: only 44% approve of his handling of Afghanistan, down from 48% in August. In my New Year’s predictions, I did say that Afghanistan would come to haunt Obama and I think it’s starting to highlight his lack of foreign policy experience and criticism is deepening. He once again lacks a clear plan. He’s delaying sending in more troops and this puts him in a tough spot – lose the war or piss off the American people even more? Looks like he’ll have to rely on Republicans in Congress (since Democrat support appears to be waning) when it comes to requests for additional troops and funding for Afghanistan.
- another thing that concerns me is the whole Team Obama business. IMHO Obama is largely a media creation; a backlash against eight years of Bush crap. But one thing he has in common with Jimmy Carter (who had really only been Governor of Georgia for 4 years) is inexperience. Community organisation does not give you the experience and savvy to lead the free world. It seems that Obama believes his personality will win the day; just as Carter’s home grown, peanut farmer image was pushed as something you could trust. I fully agree with this article, which suggests that factional infighting over policies within an Administration makes for healthy government. Obama’s Administration tends to have one voice on policy issues – it is sycophantic in this sense and also because there is an inflated sense of Obama’s appeal.
This is a President learning on the job (which makes me uneasy) and a President who is pretty naive when it comes to foreign policy. He has a tough gig so any President would probably be getting mud slung his or her way right now. What do you think?