Obama finds US top job was made in hell
President lacks skill to take hard-headed decisions, says PETER BILLS
I T IS DOUBTFUL whether President Barack Obama has had much time to focus on sporting events in the 12 months since his US election win. The US economy, his health service reforms, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the Fort Hood massacre, North Korea, the Palestine issue, climate change and unemployment have dominated most of his time.
The fate of the Chicago Bears pales into insignificance amid such tortuous issues.
Nevertheless, that old sporting adage that says “you can’t win a trophy in the first half of a game but you sure can lose it”, might be something that Obama ought to consider.
Right now, as America’s love affair with their latest president begins to wither, Obama is perhaps just beginning to come to terms with the reality of a job so sought after by most Americans but as he is finding out, one laced with arsenic.
That reality is that this is a job made in hell. And the second reality check is that Barack Obama increasingly looks ill-suited to the job, a smooth talking operator who, alas, appears to lack the dynamism and steely capacity for hard-headed decisions.
Worse still, Obama has appeared a ditherer, incapable of making tough choices and justifying them by the power of his oratory and belief. In the United Kingdom, critics thought they spied something familiar in the US president.
“Obama’s election,” they said disparagingly, “will prove to be America’s Tony Blair moment.”
One year on, those words are already beginning to come back to haunt the US. Just as Blair, equally suave, proved to be a figure of little more than hollow promises and hot air, so Obama has failed to back up all the fine rhetoric with action. All talk no achievement, is a phrase that is starting to haunt Obama.
Like Blair, Obama made instant promises that he appears unlikely to be able to keep. The intricate Palestinian problem, in which he created much expectation by his early rhetoric, appears to have been hustled quietly on to the back burner.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the president’s bluff by carrying on the policy of building settlements in the occupied lands, something Obama had set his stall firmly against publicly.
When the Israelis ignored US requests for a halt, Obama was forced to drop his demand for a complete stop to work on all settlements. The new president looked impotent.
The Palestinians, initially hopeful of a genuine change of policy in Washington that would force the Israelis to talk serious terms, have taken note, growing numbers being driven towards the camp of the Hamas extremists. Talks have stalled, hopes have faded.
Meanwhile, North Korea and Iran appear to be playing ducks and drakes with the Obama administration. The olive branch is proffered by both, immediately followed by the Kalashnikov.
In both cases, it appears that Obama’s entreaties toward dialogue have been ignored, met only by hardnosed pragmatism. Even the peaceloving Obama may be coming towards the conclusion that the offer of rhetoric equates to weakness in the eyes of the rogue nations.
Closer to home, the new president’s pledge to close Guantanamo Bay detention centre by January, looks unlikely to be met.
Likewise, his health service reforms, the master plan that he hopes will hallmark his presidency, have aroused vehement opposition.
The Republicans have fulminated at the $787 billion costs involved. His promise to reduce the entire federal budget deficit to around $500 billion by the time his first term is completed in January 2013 looks at best speculative. In the US, as in Britain, it appears leaders lack the moral courage to spell out harsh realities to their citizens.
‘Obama has appeared a ditherer, incapable of making tough choices’
Yet with annual budget deficits scheduled to reach around $1 trillion a year, someone sometime is going to have to be the harbinger of bad news.
Obama also promised to address the government’s third big entitlement programme, Social Security, but Democratic Congressional leaders are opposed.
The new president’s ongoing delay in making another critical decision, namely on whether to accede to demands by the US military to ramp up the war in Afghanistan by sending an additional 40 000 troops as requested by General Stanley McChrystal, the senior US Commander in the theatre, has epitomised his first year in office.
The man who propounds peace and vehemently opposed the invasion of Iraq is clearly wrestling with his inner demons in discussing a considerable extension to a war many of the allies increasingly believe is unwinnable.
At such a dangerous moment in time, the one thing the Western coalition required was a clear and early directive. Obama’s long, drawn out decision has sent all the wrong messages around the world, not least to the Taliban who rightly perceive a growing distaste for the conflict among Western audiences. Obama doubtless sniffs that too in the increasingly chill Washington air but his mistake is in delay.
A clear commitment, either to an Iraq-type surge of troops, or an exit strategy, was critical. He has provided neither and in so doing has bolstered his opponents who talk of a worrying inertia at the top of the US administration. Perhaps of equal concern, the US has ended up appearing to bolster a corrupt dictator, the newly elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai who owes his continuing position of eminence only to fraud.
But Obama has equal, if different, concerns at home. His poll ratings have declined, heading due south as job losses and higher energy prices go in the opposite direction. Unemployment levels have frightened Americans, still aware of the horrific effects of the Great Depression of the late 1920s, early ’30s. In Augusta, earlier this year, one of the southern states in the so-called Bible belt where Republican views once dominated, Obama was elected.
But even in a single year, views have changed. The sense of hopelessness is epitomised by the boarded-up homes around the poor, back parts of Augusta where the multi-million dollar US Masters is played each year. “Gone away, no hope, no future”, read one. Another said simply “For Sale – $1 plus debts.”
On a wider front, Obama would like to get rid of all the US’s nuclear weapons. But given the intransigence of countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, this seems increasingly little more than a naive pipedream.
Rightly or wrongly, as in London’s Downing Street, there appears a damaging drift, a weakness and distaste for tough decision making at the heart of the US administration.
Obama has time to change and change he must. Otherwise, his Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding, the scorn and derision that followed Tony Blair from office, will be the US president’s sad but inevitable political legacy.
DAMP SQUIB: US President Barack Obama is proving unable to live up to his promises, say critics.