Spotlight on Geopolitics

Obama’s First Year

From an European perspective, Barack Obama’s first year in office has been less than spectacular as far as results go. His left-of-centre administration includes many of Bill Clinton’s former appointees in vital areas such as economic strategy or foreign affairs. Many of his supporters feel let down with the lack of progress in Iraq, in Afghanistan, on the environment or by the less-than-satisfactory health reform. To be sure, the Republicans are still in charge of the Defense Department, same as during the Clinton mandate in the ’90s. Thirty thousand additional troops were recently dispatched to Afghanistan, which is unfortunately becoming an Islamic Vietnam, with a Taliban victory no longer considered a remote possibility.

Today’s United States is a country with a decaying industrial base and infrastructure, being regarded around the world as a promoter of financial instability and military diplomacy. True, its relationship with Russia is less tense than during the Bush years, and these days American diplomats are required to “achieve more with less”. The US’s recent foreign affairs strategy was developed last April during a meeting of the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) and the National Defense University. On that occasion, the representatives of the State Department freely admitted that the US are not able to stop China from developing further, much as they would have liked to: “we cannot change the course of events and we do not have any plausible recipe that would allow us to slow down their growth” (source Le Monde diplomatique) . The participants admitted that America has lost its claim to world supremacy and the fact that its diplomats can “no longer dictate to other states how to conduct their affairs, having to use persuasion instead”. In order to enlist the Russians’ support to pressure Iran in giving up its nuclear ambitions, the Obama administration has scrapped the missile shield deployment in Central Europe.

Obama also hopes that China’s support will help his administration in dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat. Consequently, during his November 2009 visit to Beijing he did not discuss Tibet with the Chinese leaders – an approach that could serve as a useful model for President Sarkozy.

One of Obama’s disappointments is that the Wall Street culprits for provoking the 2008 financial meltdown are back to business as usual, after paying back the Treasury bailout funds they had received a year ago. The administration’s efforts to limit their bonuses have failed so far, and moves to re-regulate the financial sector have been all but abandoned.

Obama’s performance during his first year in office has disappointed many of his supporters because they had burdened his presidency with too many expectations, from ending the war to solving environmental problems. This personalisation of power which afflicts presidential systems of government is mainly to blame. The hope that a “miracle leader” could turn things around decisively has thus been exposed as just another political myth. Or, in the words of Serge Halimi, editorialist for Le Monde diplomatique, “the 2008 US presidential election has reminded us that miracles do not exist. And that, same as in other countries, a president’s political willpower or personality cannot be responsible for the destiny of the US”.

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  1. Obama’s first year has been a dismal failure. However, he was the victim of unusual expectations when he entered office. The United States is a center right country and he has governed from the left. Thus, the result has been predictible.

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