What Obama Is Doing Wrong

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.

Reprinted with permission from the History News Network.


  1. says

    Klinghoffer is generally correct.

    Just one question for her – which I ask in accord with a recent column by Reich – why worry about the budget deficit? Compared with the need for really getting people back to work, and even getting the banks regulated properly, getting the deficit under control can wait. (The Republican congress always bitches about it, but Republican presidents haven’t worried about it, so why should Obama?)

    As commenter Thomas writes, “US policy cannot work without an assertion of goals, both domestically and abroad. Obama has simply been far too passive in his approach, both domestically and abroad. No way must Obama lighten up and stop twisting domestic arms. He’s got to get cracking and twist more of them.”

    But Thomas misses K’s point on foreign policy. Sure, Bush’s act looked overly unilateral, without even appearance of timely consultations. Sure, Obama does well to carry on with more consultations. But consultations cannot replace actions, and the world does look to the USA to lead, if necessary by initially unilateral example. Obama has simply failed to lead in real stuff, as versus make believe stuff about how lion and lamb will lie down happily together.

    Why are people still dying in Darfur? Why does Obama and his administration carry on as if it’s really OK (just sad, but no real problem) when the Iranian regime thumbs its nose at all the solemn nuke deadlines that Obama himself has delivered and meanwhile shoots its own innocent civilians? Why is Dalai Lama snubbed?

  2. George Thomas says

    I’m aware of Judith Klinghoffer’s credentials, but wondering how she arrives at her conclusions (What Obama is Doing Wrong). I can buy the growing buzz that blaming Bush will no longer work, but the fact remains Obama’s “team….” faced some severe challenges. Someone or someones within that “team….” (of rivals?), Obama himself possibly among them, sensed that part of the Bush legacy had been unprecedented increases in unilateral decisions affecting other states and non-state entities globally, and decreased diplomacy in implementing those decisions. What is commonly mischaracterized as kowtowing to foreign leaders, is often alternatively characterized as re-setting the American agenda toward more diplomatic even-handedness and a toning down of arrogance.
    Obama’s administration has lost much momentum lately, and, especially since August 09, has dropped a long way in poll points. Perhaps it’s the sense that the administration still symbolizes the “un-Bush” governing strategies they once seemed to stand for. By Obama’s failure to project forceful leadership, the promise is falling apart. In Teheran, people can wave signs asking Obama if he’s with them or against them. Domestically, anyone who saw the advantages of a governmentally-sponsored health insurance alternative — the “government option,” now wonders where Obama stands, so far behind his former “government option” line in the sand. The Afghan crisis is far more complex than commonly understood, and yet we are treated to media interviews with Gen. McChrystal, who satisfies our popular cravings with know-how, can-do, overoptimistic assessments of how our new business-management-pop-social-science efforts are proceeding toward solutions on-schedule — as if, upon the US forces leaving, established, old tribal social organizations will continue on track, building Afghan civic life as specified by contract.
    One thing in Ms. Klinghoffer’s favor is that US policy cannot work without an assertion of goals, both domestically and abroad. Obama has simply been far too passive in his approach, both domestically and abroad. No way must Obama lighten up and stop twisting domestic arms. He’s got to get cracking and twist more of them.


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