Barack Obama went on television this week and warned the changes he promised would not take place overnight. When he was elected he said the climb ahead would be steep. But, like a football manager after a string of bad results, it seems voters blame him.
Alasdair Sandford of euronews spoke to Charles Kupchan from Georgetown university, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former member of President Clinton’s National Security Council.
euronews: Is Obama to blame for his own predicament?
Charles Kupchan. Council on Foreign Relations:
Well it is clear that Obama, was dealt a very bad hand to begin with. He had two wars, neither of them going well, a global economy and an American economy right on the edge of collapse and then a very divided country. Bush had polarised the US in ways that we really haven’t seen for many decades. And then Obama comes in and I think he had some very clear successes on healthcare and on stabilising the economy, making the US more popular abroad but in many respects he hasn’t gotten credit for some of these gains, mainly because the American economy hasn’t picked up, many Americans are feeling the pain and they are blaming the President.
Foreign policy is your field and you’ve said that he is courageous for instance in his approach to issues like Iran. Does that matter at all, is it all down to the economy?
Charles Kupchan, Council on Foreign Relations:
It is mostly about the economy right now, and that’s because, unlike in Europe even though you have a downturn there, here the hit for the average American is really quite major: unemployment, people are losing their houses, people are fearful for their savings, whether they can survive after they have retired, and that is really driving the political process, it is fuelling the Tea Party, it is fuelling the switch of independents from the Democratic column into the Republican column.
To the degree that foreign policy matters it is focused largely on Iraq and there Obama has succeeded in essently sticking to his pledge to begin downsizing. Afghanistan is a big question mark, the surge has gone ahead, it remains to be seen whether the new increment of American troops really makes a difference in terms of bringing the Taliban to wean.
So what picture is emerging of the US you would say, at this time?
Well I’m afraid it is a picture in which the US faces some very, very serious challenges, particularly in terms of bringing down the deficit, but also in terms of foreign policy, dealing with Afghanistan, dealing with the rise of new powers and the loss of the material primacy of the West. But it doesn’t look like the American political system is going to be in particularly good shape. I think Obama does need to recalibrate, does need to realise that if he gets things done he has to work with a Congress that is likely to tilt in the Republican direction. Whether he can cobble together the necessary coalitions remains a big question mark. But I think that is going to be the agenda: finding enough common ground with the opposition so that Obama can begin to tackle big domestic questions ahead and I think those are really trying to get the economy move forward, address unemployment, but also bring down the deficit which is in the long run a very serious threat, not just to the American economy but to America’s geopolitical position which in the end rests upon its economical vitality.
Charles Kupchan in Washington, thank you very much for speaking to euronews.