Any chance at all of saving Obama's presidency?

It's not just Obamacare, the rollout of which has been a disaster. He's in domestic stalemate on almost everything else. He's lost on foreign policy. His State of the Union address this month is his only hope. But is there really any hope at all?

by Taylor Dibbert on 6 January 2014 21:42

Mr. Obama has never lived up to expectations, but the past twelve months of his presidency have been especially discouraging. When we had the IRS scandal and the mess with Associated Press reporters broke, people were shocked.

The NSA story was troubling, although Mr. Obama’s response has been almost as problematic as the actual story. It looks like Republicans got most of the blame for the government shutdown. However, as the person tasked with running the country, some of the culpability has to fall on the president.

And then there is the issue with his signature domestic initiative, the Affordable Care Act – the rollout of which has been nothing less than an absolute disaster.

It’s good that the economy is improving, yet unemployment is still at 7 percent; this means nearly 11 million Americans are out of work. It should come as no surprise that Mr. Obama’s approval ratings are at a historic low.

Regrettably, American foreign policy under Mr. Obama’s watch has been deeply troubling as well. There is talk of a pivot to Asia, but it’s not clear what that means. Secretary of State John Kerry seems to be far more concerned with developments in the Middle East.

No US president wants to be bogged down in the Middle East, but the issue over “red lines” in Syria has been worrisome. Mr. Obama’s move to seek permission from Congress to conduct limited military action there was also unwise.

It’s fine to talk to Iran, although people should remain skeptical. In 2011, Mr. Obama said that Mubarak had to go, yet it still doesn’t look like the US has a policy when it comes to Egypt these days either.

Given the escalation of violence in Iraq, it appears that the Obama administration should have made a Status of Forces Agreement more of a priority.

It’s great that US forces took out Osama bin Laden, although Mr. Obama shows no interest in cutting down on drone strikes or making the process more transparent. We’re going to be dealing with the backlash of those strikes for decades.

It has indisputably been a rough year. Still, the president has also been somewhat lucky. It seems clear that the Republicans – at least for now – have no interest in bringing their party together.

When it comes to US foreign and domestic policy, clarity and strong leadership are urgently needed. Without question, Mr. Obama is in danger of becoming a lame duck president. His upcoming State of the Union address on January 28 would be an opportune time to explain how he plans to turn things around.

He is facing the prospects of near total legislative gridlock during the next three years and needs to take decisive action on a few key fronts in order to ensure that doesn’t happen. He should start by bringing in some new faces and holding a few people accountable for the disastrous healthcare rollout.

He could also address America’s fiscal profligacy and how he intends to work with Republicans on that issue. He could highlight immigration reform as well; just because 2014 is an election year, doesn’t mean that nothing should happen.

With no chance of getting anything through Congress post-Newtown, Mr. Obama recently signed a pair of Executive Orders pertaining to gun control. That’s fine, but an American president cannot govern through Executive Orders. He will probably also emphasize other issues, including inequality, jobs, energy, infrastructure, education and the importance of trade.

Above all else, Mr. Obama needs to make a strong case that he’s willing to work with legislators on Capitol Hill. In spite of his clear distaste for politics and the policymaking process, one hopes that he finds failure and irrelevance even more unpalatable.

On foreign policy, Mr. Obama must realize that talk of “leading from behind” is not a substitute for an overarching strategy. Since a clear articulation of Obama’s foreign policy has yet to materialize, Mr. Obama should take the opportunity to outline his foreign policy agenda for the remainder of his presidency.

Equally important, he should succinctly explain to the American people (and the world) why it matters. In that regard, Mr. Obama could explain how his administration will handle America’s very limited influence in Iraq and how he intends to promote stability there. He could also mention Afghanistan and why the ‘zero option’ isn’t an option at all.

He could talk about how his administration will reengage with Egypt because that’s an important relationship and how the US will do a better job of communicating with other allies in the region – including Saudi Arabia and Israel. Mr. Obama could also remind people that, in spite of progress, there is much work to be done when it comes to an Iranian nuclear deal.

He might emphasize that during the next three years pivoting or rebalancing to Asia will go well beyond rhetoric. He could even talk about strengthening ties with Latin America – especially Brazil and Mexico – a region that has been ignored for far too long. When it comes to foreign affairs, it’s clear that the world still yearns for American global leadership.

Finally, Mr. Obama will need to connect his agenda – domestic and foreign – to clearly articulated policy initiatives. And he will need to finally do what he says he’s going to do.

By clearly outlining a comprehensive agenda and finally connecting strategies to policies which can be implemented, Mr. Obama can remain relevant. In some ways, Obama’s State of the Union address will be the most important speech of his presidency.

America’s political system is in bad shape and thoughtful, strong leadership is of utmost importance. As we enter 2014, many people are hoping that Mr. Obama – an inspirational figure and a talented orator – can provide that leadership.

After all, Mr. Obama will be remembered most for what he does, not what he says. Unfortunately, there are few reasons to believe that the next three years will be any better than the previous five.

Taylor Dibbert is an international consultant based in Washington, DC.

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