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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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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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