Obama finds US top job was made in hell

Pres­i­dent lacks skill to take hard-headed de­ci­sions, says PETER BILLS

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

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.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

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