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Where's The Change? Obama Gets Big Thumbs Down From Once Enamored Europe

Analysis: A Swiss correspondent in Washington, like others from the Old Continent, has concluded that Obama lacked the leadership skills necessary to meet the challenges of his times. He also made one crucial error from Day One.

Obama at work, June 8, 2012 (Pete Souza/White House)
Obama at work, June 8, 2012 (Pete Souza/White House)
Martin Kilian

WASHINGTON - Five months before the American presidential elections, people are taking stock of what Barack Obama, the United States' first African-American president, has accomplished since his historic election in 2008. Unfortunately for him, he's not getting high marks at home or abroad. Indeed this week's cover story in top German news weekly Der Spiegel calls Obama's presidency "failed." What a shame, the German news magazine writes.

It's a fact that Obama might not be re-elected. Perhaps as a man near the center of the political spectrum he is unsuited to lead at a time that needs more than a radical touch. After all, his presidency began during the worst financial and economic crisis the US has known since the 1930s, but unlike Franklin Roosevelt he was no match for the situation.

Obama made an astonishing cardinal error by actually believing that he could rely on compromise to overcome the deep political divide in Washington. There was no way the Republican opposition was going to go along with that, which is why Obama, although he promised change and hope, finds himself after nearly four years in office facing a body politic that is frighteningly polarized and unable to compromise. And, of course, the political system is the weaker for it.

If the Republicans bear the brunt of responsibility, it's fair to say that Obama didn't properly size up the opposition and its extreme ambition. He didn't really understand that, since Ronald Reagan, modern American conservatism has developed into an ideological movement prepared to use every means -- kosher or not -- to achieve its political goals. And it doesn't help matters that in trying to find a way forward while fighting over deficits, a balanced budget and government debt, Obama was at several points prepared to relinquish historic achievements and principles of his own Democratic Party.

Along with wrongly gauging Republican motives, Obama showed a complete lack of leadership on health care reforms. Instead of overseeing them from the White House, he turned everything over to House Democrats and then had to watch as the Senate pulled the reforms apart until they were Tea Party fodder.

Obama alienated former supporters from the ideological left by pursuing many of George W. Bush's policies on the war on terror, failing to keep his promise to close Guantanamo -- and by not abolishing the controversial broad executive power instituted by Bush. He let Latinos down over the issue of deportation of illegal immigrants. His wobbly stance on gay marriage turned homosexuals and lesbians off. And his flirtations with Wall Street were ineffectual: the plutocrats are streaming to the camp of Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent in the forthcoming election.

It's entirely possible that Barack Obama practiced the politics of the possible in difficult times and saved the United States from far worse. But this cautious president didn't bring about the change that the country so urgently needs.

Read the article in German.

Photo - Pete Souza/White House

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

When Did Putin "Turn" Evil? That's Exactly The Wrong Question

Look back over the past two decades, and you'll see Vladimir Putin has always been the man revealed by the Ukraine invasion, an evil and sinister dictator. The Russian leader just managed to mask it, especially because so many chose to see him as a typically corrupt and greedy strongman who could be bribed or reasoned with.

Putin arrives for a ceremony to accept credentials from 24 foreign ambassadors at the Grand Kremlin Palace on Sept. 20.

Sergiy Gromenko*

-OpEd-

KYIV — The world knows that Vladimir Putin has power, money and mistresses. So why, ask some, wasn't that enough for him? Why did he have to go start another war?

At its heart, this is the wrong question to ask. For Putin, military expansion is not an adrenaline rush to feed into his existing life of luxury. On the contrary, the shedding of blood for the sake of holding power is his modus operandi, while the fruits of greed and corruption like the Putin Palace in Gelendzhik are more like a welcome bonus.

In the last year, we have kept hearing rhetorical questions like “why did Putin start this war at all, didn't he have enough of his own land?” or “he already has Gelendzhik to enjoy, why fight?” This line of thinking has resurfaced after missile strikes on Ukrainian power grids and dams, which was regarded by many as a simple demonstration of terrorism. Such acts are a manifestation of weakness, some ask, so is Putin ready to show himself weak?

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However, you will not arrive at the correct answer if the questions themselves are asked incorrectly. For decades, analysts in Russia, Ukraine, and the West have been under an illusion about the nature of the Russian president's personal dictatorship.

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