Candidate Barack Obama challenged Americans to be audacious enough to hope that being perceived as racist bullies was at the root of all their security and economic woes. The best way forward, therefore, was to elect as president a first term multiracial senator who would change the “unfair” free enterprise system. The majority of American voters accepted the challenge, to worldwide cheers. The greatest achievement of the Obama presidency has now been to prove candidate Obama’s security premise wrong, and he admitted so in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
A year hence, Americans may be more popular but they are neither safer, nor better off than they were a year ago. The opposite is true. Who fared worst under the Obama presidency? America’s friends abroad, and Obama’s voters at home. Not surprisingly, polls show that the majority of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track and disapprove of Obama’s job performance. Indeed, the country is seething with a degree of anger not seen since the late Sixties.
Nothing symbolizes more perfectly the irrelevance of the ethnicity of an American president than a Nigerian wannabe suicide bomber. Nothing can illustrate better the uselessness of the atmosphere of global opinion than the precipitous rise in Jihadi efforts to terrorize the American homeland. From 2001 to 2009, there were zero successful Islamist attacks on the American homeland. There have been three successful ones during the last three months, killing 13 Americans and injuring dozens. As former CIA director General Michael Hayden implies, the fault lies partly on the Obama administration’s shifting of the attention from fighting terrorists to fighting for the rights of terrorists.
Nor is there an iota of evidence that the world has become a safer place. Obama’s wish to engage Iran has merely served to embolden its hard line rulers, giving them time to develop their nuclear capabilities, arm proxy terrorist armies, and savagely murder their domestic critics. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen have not faired better. “Reset” buttons have not made China and Russia more cooperative (merely less respectful), and all the empty talk has made Eastern Europe, India and Israel more nervous.
Moreover, for the first time America does not stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for democracy and individual liberty – so much so that students in Tehran carry banners asking: “Obama are you with us or against us?”
It is true that economists no longer warn of a global economic collapse. The Obama administration, however, has not only paid an exorbitant price for the so-called global economic stabilization but has done so at the expense of its weakest citizens. Printing vast amounts of dollars and embarking on humongous government spending benefited those with enough money to dare invest in the post-March 2009 stock market and workers in the public sector. In the meantime, a myriad of Obama legislative initiatives, from health care reform to cap and trade and financial regulation reform, have left the private sector unable to plan effectively.
The result? A widespread hiring freeze and a 10% official unemployment rate. To make matters worse, official African American unemployment reached 15.6% and official youth unemployment (16-24) reached 19.1%. 18% of Americans are getting food stamps. For the first time, most Americans believe that their children will be worse of than they are.
So, what does the future hold for the Obama administration? It is too early to tell. Much will depend on his ability to learn and change course. Obama is using Chicago-style strong-arm techniques at home, while kowtowing to kings and dictators abroad. To forestall big Democratic loses in the 2010 elections, he will have to reverse tactics. He will need to flex some muscles abroad and be more respectful to his critics at home, and realize that pretty, abstract speeches will not suffice – blaming George W. Bush will not do. To turn his presidency around he must convince Americans that he puts them first. He must create a stable business atmosphere that will encourage private job creation, and he must cut the budget deficit.
It is a tall order, but who said that being the American president is easy?
Judith Apter Klinghoffer
Judith Apter Klinghoffer taught history and International relations at Rowan University, Rutgers University, the Foreign Affairs College in Beijing as well as at Aarhus University in Denmark where she was a senior Fulbright professor. She is an affiliate professor at Haifa University. Her books include Israel and the Soviet Union, Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences and International Citizens’ Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights.
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