The Obama Conundrum: A French Glance Toward Election Day
Editorial: Barack Obama’s bid for re-election in 2012 could be smooth sailing, but is he chipping away at America’s leading role in the world?
Less than six months after the Democrats' expected but still memorable midterm shellacking, Barack Obama seems to be back in control of his country. Almost no one in Washington today seems to foster any serious doubts about his chances to win a second term in 2012.
Many things can change, of course, during the 18 months left before the next election day, and it appears obvious to many that the president's strength today comes as much from his adversaries' weakness as from his own merits. The fact that America now seems bent on keeping him in the White House does not mean that people there are happy with their political leaders and prefer to go with political continuity. The reality is that, with unemployment rates stuck at "European levels," the United States is a more dispirited nation than ever, profoundly unsatisfied with the present and worried about the future.
By announcing his 2012 re-election bid fairly early, and stirring up talk about his becoming the first billion-dollar candidate, the president has made a deft political move and made a step towards consolidating his apparent advantage over the divided and seemingly lost Republicans. The party still does not have an obvious presidential frontrunner who seems capable of being a credible rival to Barack Obama. As the social effects of the economic crisis linger on, the visceral hostility of the GOP towards the "Big Government" is not exactly appealing to America's embattled middle class, who know they need to get more, and not less, from the State.
And finally, the fracture within the Republican Party seems today to run a lot deeper than among Democrats. It is true that, by keeping close ties with the financial world of Wall Street, President Obama has lost the support of the most liberal Democrats (in France, the proper expression would be those most to the left). But the division seems paltry compared with the abysmal fracture provoked by the Tea Party's ultra-populist views inside the Republican Party.
Fractures within America's two political parties cannot hide divisions within the American society itself. This might result in 2012 in a "cohabitation à l'américaine": a Democrat in the White House and Republicans at the helm of both houses of Congress. This scenario does not augur well for the United States' capacity to make the transformations it needs and to play a constructive role in the world. The truth is that Barack Obama needs to show a whole lot of "caution" in the way he handles foreign affairs, if he does not want to damage his chances of being reelected.
On the Libyan question, it is easy to distinguish two schools of thought in the president's entourage. The first, represented by the American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, Samantha Power from the National Security Council and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been at the heart of the president's initial engagement against Colonel Gaddafi's regime.
On the other side, Obama's political advisers such as Bill Daley, the new White House Chief of Staff, and his National Security Adviser Thomas Donilon, have pointed out the political risks linked to Washington embarking on a new and extremely perilous military adventure. It is this second school of thought that seems to have won in the end, even if the administration's strong words somewhat compensate its lukewarm actions.
Has the United States become slightly more cautious or is it becoming more "provincial" than ever, influenced by one of its most open-minded and cultivated presidents? In light of the Arab spring the question seems more worthwhile than ever. Hasn't the Congress recently taken the time to indulge itself into a typically Washingtonian psychodrama over the budget that lasted more than 48 hours, while events in the Middle East were as fluid as they could be?
At the same time, a number of high profile Chinese visitors in Washington were praising the Chinese vision of the world. The American vision may be wider and the European one deeper, they said, but can they compete with China's which is longer? Barack Obama may have taken control of his country, but the United States is farther away than ever of doing the same in the world.
Read the original article in French
Photo - Dana Beveridge