Obama the unpopular

Obama's image across the world is more reflective of his method of politics, and less representative of the wave of excitement upon which he was elected

Obama's image is taking a battering around the world
On 9 July 2013 13:28

If it is true that the price of political courage is unpopularity, then it could be argued that political cowardice would reap rewards for world leaders who coast on rhetoric and avoid substantive action.

When considering his predecessors and his incumbent colleagues around the world, few heads of state or world leaders could be placed in the same category of political pusillanimity as U.S. President Barack Obama.

It sounds like a hell of a statement, but in analysing the former Illinois Senator's record in office, the prevailing narrative is one of confusion at best. Hasty in the face of long-term goals, and known to prevaricate when confronted with crises, Barack Obama was elected on a wave of populism. The "Obama effect" has come to typify campaigns, posters, and effective how-to guides on getting elected are often adorned with an image of America's first black president.

Why then, wherever Obama travels in the world, is he confronted with voluminous disdain? 

It all seemed to start well by his standards. In Cairo, he spoke to the "Muslim world" of building bridges and other nice, fluffy things. But the reality was far from what Obama and his advisors could have ever imagined, and Cairo set the tone for a bumbling foreign policy approach that has left Obama as one of the least popular leaders on the face of the planet.

But Bush was relatively unpopular too - so why am I being so harsh on Obama?

It's quite simple. When George W. Bush, Obama's predecessor, was elected, there wasn't an outpouring of ecstacy across the globe. People weren't convinced that the new Messiah had arrived, or that "change had come" - whatever that means.

When George W. Bush was elected, the United States was already perceived as being overstretched, and while Bush Jr compounded that problem with his nation-building philosophy, Obama promised to end America's role as bad guy in the world, while ratcheting up the rhetoric on peace, democracy, diplomacy and 'fairness'. It's all failed.

There were no pre-emptive Nobel prizes or hagiographic interviews in leading magazines from across the political spectrum. No. Bush was just another President, and the best that the American public could hope for at the time was a man who didn't get his rocks off in the Oval Office courtesy of an intern. 

But Bush proceeded to lower the bar, according to the rest of the world. The Iraq War, the financial collapse, spiralling unemployment and a legacy of curtailing civil liberties all created a situation in which it was believed that anyone who followed, be it John McCain or Barack Obama, would surely fair far better.

And yet Obama has somehow managed to blow the whole show. 

Whether in the Palestinian territories, in Israel, in South Africa or in Egypt, Barack Obama is now a widely loathed character on the international stage. And despite his re-election, he's not going great guns at home either.

And this is because Barack Obama's legacy is one of half-truths and half-efforts. 

When he was elected in 2008, he promised to close Guantanamo Bay, make friends abroad, bring the troops home, confront terrorism, rejuvenate the economy, create a universal healthcare system for Americans and usher in a new era in the Middle East Peace Process. Fairly standard campaign promises, you might think. The problem for him was that most people actually believed him. 

And Obama did go on to do some good things in all those areas. He hasn't yet closed Guantanamo Bay, but according to sources on the inside, it's a playpen compared to what it used to be. He has made friends abroad, but the wrong kind in now deposed leaders like Mohamed Morsi. He got Bin Laden, but America continues to be plagued by terror attacks. He employed an unprecedented fiscal stimulus, but Americans still can't find work. He created a healthcare reform bill that was widely described as a "blowjob to the insurance companies" that he claimed were the problem in the first place. And as for the Middle East - where do we start?

Whether it was the Obama administrations incompetence in "leading from behind" in Libya, and the resulting Benghazi nightmare, or the President's misreading of the situation in Egypt, backing Morsi too hard and too soon - you can see why the Arab world failed to fall in love with the 44th U.S. president.

As for Israel and the Palestinians, fobbing the situation off to John Kerry in his second term speaks volumes as to the seriousness of his commitment to any peace process. And both sides know it.

Obama's half-hearted politics have come to define his presidency, and will likely, bar some serious public relations revisionism, be the prevailing memory of his time in the White House. 

Because whether you agreed with him or not on any of his core policies, you would probably have gained a lot more respect for the man if he pursued his agenda truthfully, and with vigour. Instead, Obama has created the greatest political enemy that he could have ever imagined: himself, circa 2008.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam

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