U.S. President Barack Obama - one year later

Posted in United States | 20-Dec-09 | Author: Dieter Farwick

U.S. President Barack Obama: "What is on the score card one year later ?"
U.S. President Barack Obama: "What is on the score card one year later ?"
On January 20 2009, the inauguration of the new President was an emotional celebration. Hundreds of thousands attended on the streets of Washington D.C. and billions of TV viewers around the globe watched euphorically, optimistically joining the feeling that a new era had begun. Hope, optimism and high expectations of a safer and better world were concentrated on one man and his family.

So what is on the score card one year later? One impact is certain: the election of the first African-American President has already changed the image of the United States drastically. This effect has been generated by the President's public appearances in so-called "Town Hall Meetings" and by speeches carefully tuned to various audiences, like his speech on television addressing the people of Iran and his Cairo speech addressing the Muslim world.

His Nobel Peace Prize was a result of his reach-out politics. On the other hand, there are critics who ask whether or not Obama relies too much 'soft' power. However, they miss the balance with 'hard' power - the second pillar of smart politics. Obama's critics are wrong to blame him for addressing all important domestic and foreign issues at once. In a globalized and interwoven world there is an urgent need for simultaneous political efforts. There is no way to isolate one issue and take time out for the rest.

A balanced evaluation requires answers to several questions:

What are the interim results after one year?
What are his greatest achievements?
What are his most serious failures?
What should we expect for the near future? - here keeping in mind that in one year's time there will be mid-term elections, by tradition a litmus test for the government

BrigGen (ret) Dieter Farwick, WSN Global Editor, took the opportunity to direct these questions at some political experts from both sides of the Atlantic as well as from India and Israel.

Bob Hunter, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO (USA), Jackson Janes, Director AICGS (USA), Judith Klinghoffer, Journalist (USA), Walter Laqueur, Historian (USA), Mike Munson, Former Deputy Director DIA (USA), Gen(ret) Klaus Naumann, Former Chairman NATO Military Committee (Germany), Division Commander(ret) Peter Regli, Former Major General (Switzerland), Hon. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Andrea Riemer, Ph.D. (Austria), Prof. Barry Rubin, Director GLORIA Center (Israel), Siddharth Srivastava, WSN Editor India (India) and BrigGen(ret) Heinz Vetschera, Political Consultant (Austria).

Dieter Farwick: What are the interim results after one year?

Bob Hunter, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: "The mid-terms are classically a referendum on domestic policy."
Bob Hunter, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO: "The mid-terms are classically a referendum on domestic policy."
Bob Hunter: President Obama has been putting US foreign policy back "on track" in terms of grounding it in US interests, properly understood, and its lasting values. Much of what he has begun will take time to reach fruition, but the journey has clearly started.

Jackson Janes: Given what he had to cope with when he entered office, last January, I think the interim results are essentially - interim. He began to reposition the US in a number of contexts with his multiple visits to Europe, his speech in Cairo, his outreach to Asia and numerous other trips abroad. In general I would say he has set engagements in motion where he can. Giventhe economic turmoil at home, and the domestic battles over health care reform, I think he has reset the domestic and foreign policy agenda in a very short time.

Judith Klinghoffer: Candidate Barack Obama challenged Americans to be audacious enough to hope that being perceived as racist bullies was at the root of all their security and economic woes, therefore, the best way forward was to elect as president a first term multiracial senator who would change the "unfair" free enterprise system. To worldwide cheers, the majority of American voters not only accepted the challenge but provided the new president with a large Congressional majority eager to do his bidding. Together they used the economic downturn to increase significantly the government's control of major sectors of the economy from banking to insurance to mortgage lending and to car manufacturing. If everything goes as expected Congress is about to pass health care reform, the top Obama domestic agenda. President Clinton said that the era of big government is over. Obama has proven him wrong and he is not done yet.

Walter Laqueur: I feel a little uneasy if American domestic and foreign policy is discussed wholly in terms of the President, his achievements and failures. The President is powerful but not everything is decided by him and anyway, the decisions are greatly influenced by Congress, public opinion, the media etc. Sometimes they are greatly influenced by his advisers. As for Obama, I am not sure how important his advisers are..

Mike Munson: Interim results are mixed. his handling of the health care issue and the incarcerated in Guantanamo are poor as is the allowance of the Attorney General Holder to run free.

Klaus Naumann: It cannot be a foreigner's task to evaluate the President's achievements. I therefore leave entirely aside his domestic performance which will determine more than anything else the outcome of the midterm elections.

Peter Regli: As an interested, neutral observer in Europe, one has to look very carefully to find indications that Obama's repeatedly and heavily used slogan "Yes we can" - used all along the election campaign trail - has produced concrete results. President Obama is a great communicator, perhaps one of the best, and uses his Teleprompters almost perfectly. Twelve months of his presidency have passed. Nevertheless, great results cannot unfortunately be identified. A concrete strategy in his foreign policy, which would also be of vital importance for our European continent, is still lacking. His popularity and credibility, very high all over the world at the beginning of this year, seem to be melting away.

Andrea Riemer: A more or less comprehensive health reform under extreme economic constraints; a more positive and growing-together US-society (Obama is a bridger and not a divider).

Barry Rubin: The popularity of Obama is relatively high in the world but it has often not had an effect on the popularity of the United States. At any rate, popularity doesn't translate into influence, progress on issues, or the protection of U.S. interests. Moderates in Latin America, the Middle East, and other areas are discouraged believing they cannot depend on U.S. support. I would say the United States is either in the same situation or worse off now than it was two years ago.

Jackson Janes, Director AICGS: "One thing that is important is his outreach to India."
Jackson Janes, Director AICGS: "One thing that is important is his outreach to India."
Siddharth Srivastava: It may be a bit too early to judge. From the point of Indo-U.S. relations, Obama has not tried to reverse the momentum built up by his predecessor George W. Bush.

Thus defence relations between the two countries continue to progress, with two of the biggest deals in the two nations' history going through under Obama. U.S. firms are now negotiating nuclear energy contracts with India too.

However, these aspects benefit U.S. business interests as well.

It remains to be seen how Obama handles the tricky issue of outsourcing once the U.S. economy picks up. He speaks of the need to stop U.S. jobs going to Bangalore, even during his election campaign. However, how all of this talk impacts policy once the going gets good, when jobs are again available and competition turns stiff, will need to be assessed. There will be pressure on Obama from American companies such as Microsoft to dilute his anti-outsourcing position.

Heinz Vetschera: Major challenges are:

On the domestic level:

  • An economic policy to combat the economic crisis/recession, strengthen the dollar and reduce unemployment;
  • Health care;
  • Educational system:
  • Popular support for foreign policy (in particular Afghanistan).

On the international level:

  • Strengthening the role of the US in the world;
  • Stability in Afghanistan and in Pakistan;
  • Stabilization of Iraq up to US withdrawal;
  • The Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
  • The nuclear challenge of North Korea and Iran;
  • Nuclear arms control, in particular with Russia (START) but also in reviving the NPT;
  • A renewed interest in stabilizing the Balkans.

While the late Bush years had been characterized by a perceived decline in the role of the US, in particular due to its unilateralism, the Obama administration has reversed this perception. It has opted for a strategy of "leadership in partnership" in a multilateral approach. This can be seen both in dealing with e.g. the economic crisis, but also with respect to mending the gaps with Europe, more openness to the Muslim world1, the renewed initiative in nuclear arms control, and a forthcoming attitude in ecological issues (global warming). The US does no longer project the image of the "lonesome rider" but of a team player, even when the substance of policy may have less changed than perceived.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer, Journalist: "The country is seething with a degree of anger not seen since the late Sixties."
Judith Apter Klinghoffer, Journalist: "The country is seething with a degree of anger not seen since the late Sixties."
There has been a widely shared assessment (not at least under the impression that the Nobel Prize award would have been premature, based on expectations rather than achievement) that the administration had a low record in substance (as a comment in Newsweek put it: ""Yes He Can (But He Sure Hasn't Yet)."

Despite these comments, we can already see some concrete results in some fields, as for example:

  • On the domestic level the adoption of the health care legislation;
  • The averting of worse consequences of the economic crisis, with some chances of recovery;
  • Concrete steps in nuclear arms control in relation to Russia.

In other fields we can see promising changes in relation to the policies of the previous administration, but not yet concrete results, as for example

  • Organized withdrawal from Iraq with a set deadline;
  • A wider approach to combat insurgencies in Afghanistan and the increased engagement in Pakistan to avert a melt down;
  • A less biased position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in particular with a critical attitude towards further Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory;
  • An explicitly changed attitude towards the Muslim world.

Finally, there are areas where the policies do not differ too much in substance from the previous administration, as for example

  • The nuclear issues with North Korea and Iran;
  • Attitudes towards the regime in Iran (in particular in view of the rising opposition).

1 The term "Muslim world" should not be misunderstood as - in reality - it does not exist in this coherent entirety. It is a simplification used both by politicized (and politicizing) Muslims and their simplistic counterparts in the West. However, this simplistic and generalizing attitude in particular by the Bush administration than required a similarly generalizing approach to revert the trend

Walter Laqueur, Historian: "I am not sure what Obama's strategy is concerning Afghanistan."
Walter Laqueur, Historian: "I am not sure what Obama's strategy is concerning Afghanistan."
Dieter Farwick: What are his greatest achievements?

Bob Hunter: Most important has to be his inspiration to the rest of the world, save for those who want an America they can excoriate.

Jackson Janes: I think it is premature to talk about greatest achievements. See above. However, I would say that he has stretch out his hand to those who wanted to take it and many have. One thing that is important - and often underestimated - is his outreach to India. That will have large implications for dealing with the Af-Pak issue.

Judith Klinghoffer: But the greatest achievement of the Obama presidency has now been to prove candidate Obama's security premise wrong, and to admit so in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. America has not been attacked because it was a racist bully and a worldwide apology tour by a biracial president may win intellectual accolades but does nothing to discourage Jihadi violence. A year hence, Americans may be more popular but they are neither safer, nor better off than they were a year ago. The opposite is true. Who fared worse under the Obama presidency? America's friends abroad, and Obama's voters at home. Not surprisingly, polls show that the majority of Americans believe that the country is on the wrong track and disapprove of Obama's job performance. Indeed, the country is seething with a degree of anger not seen since the late Sixties.

Walter Laqueur: The interim results. Not much so far in foreign politics, there have been atmospheric changes which should not be dismissed as of no consequence. But great achievements I do not see. Could there have been great achievements? I doubt it,because it takes two to tango. Neither big nor small powers are willing to make substantial concessions as far as their core interests are concerned.just because the discourse has become more civilized.

America has traditionally underrated the importance of soft power and still does (nor has it been particularly good at it). Also there have been misunderstandings concerning soft power which still apply. Soft power means politeness, praising adversaries where praise is due. |But it also means making use of the weaknesses of adversary-for instance if he (or they) deeply believe in conspiracy theories. The limits of soft power should also be clearly understood. A big power will always inspire some (or much) fear simply because it is big. The only sure means for America to become truly popular is to become powerless and irrelevant.

Mike Munson: On the plus side he has a strong national security team and they are doing well with the exception of the Arab/Israeli situation. He needs to be stronger in dealing with Israel. This will probably not happen. The number of drone attacks in Pakistan/Afghanistan are up. This is good. Bin Laden can't be comfortable. Barack made the right decision on troop increases but took too long. In my view it was a "no brainer". He gets a strong plus so far for his handling of the economic mess he inherited. Finally he has raised world confidence in the US.

His greatest achievements are his prosecution of the Pakistan/Afghanistan terrorist arena and his handling of the economic quagmire.

Klaus Naumann: Internationally President Obama achieved to restore hope in Americ's leadership and he raised many hopes ranging from his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons to peaceful settlements in the Greater Middle East. He thus reduced the wave of anti-Americanism and he restored the legitimate US claim of being the world's most important leader. This is his greatest achievement so far. For restoring hope he was awarded the Peace Noble Prize which may well turn out to be a millstone on his neck.

Mike Munson, Former Deputy Director DIA: "His biggest failures are in the health arena."
Mike Munson, Former Deputy Director DIA: "His biggest failures are in the health arena."
Peter Regli: During his first twelve months in office, President Obama has certainly been successful in presenting the USA to the world in a more human and open way. His youth, charisma and eloquence are positive attributes. The modesty and charm of his wife, First Lady Michelle, are a major complement to his presidency. The 'First Couple' is very American, articulated, sincere and as such popular, especially among the younger generation. For our world, Obama was a sign of hope for better and more human politics. His open hand, extended to the Muslim world, and especially his excellent, balanced speech in Cairo, was a major positive achievement. The success so far on Capitol Hill for his healthcare project has certainly been a modest Christmas present for the President and his White House entourage. It has, unfortunately, little influence on his credibility abroad.

Andrea Riemer: Providing hope, a positive atmosphere, an atmosphere of cooperation

Barry Rubin: Other than personal popularity there really aren't any. One can drone on about building U.S. popularity, etc., but the country is worse off in economic status and real credibility.

Siddharth Srivastava: I think his greatest achievement so far has been to reduce the 'big bully superpower' tag that America had acquired under Bush. A bit of this could be to do with the fact that America's domestic economy is hurting due to recession, but some of it is down to his own judgment and the people who are advising him.

At the same time, Obama has not lost sight of the fact that America must continue to lead the global fight against terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The invasion of Iraq was a folly built on personal egos and false notions of invincibility, a matter that Obama seems to have realized, though America might have gone a little overboard in its efforts to isolate Iran.

Also, his humble acceptance of the unexpected Nobel Peace Prize is a plus and showed some of his character.

Heinz Vetschera:

On the domestic level:

The adoption of the Health Care legislation by the Congress can be seen as a major achievement on the domestic level, the more so as similar initiatives by earlier administrations over the past 60 years (including Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton) have failed.

Also, the performance during the economic/banking crisis can be seen as achievement as the administration's fiscal intervention most probably helped to avert a further worsening of the situation, where a collapse could not be excluded.

General (ret) Dr. Klaus Naumann, Former Chairman NATO Military Committee: "Internationally President Obama achieved to restore hope in Americ's leadership."
General (ret) Dr. Klaus Naumann, Former Chairman NATO Military Committee: "Internationally President Obama achieved to restore hope in Americ's leadership."
On the international level:

The most important achievement is the re-establishing of a coherent western position vis-à-vis global challenges, ranging from fighting terrorism, addressing climate change, communication with the Muslim world, to the banking crisis.

A particular step of symbolic value was the decision to close the detention center in Guantanamo.

A further achievement is the re-established interest in arms control, in particular in the nuclear field. While the UN-speech on complete nuclear disarmament has to be assessed as of a primarily rhetoric character, continuation of the START-process and advocating the NPT can be seen as a change towards a promising strategy.

Finally, while the situation in Iraq is far from perfect, stability has grown over the last year which could be attributed to the changed strategy of the new administration.

Dieter Farwick: What are his most serious failures?

Bob Hunter: The Administration has yet to demonstrate 1) an adequate strategic approach to the manifold challenges facing the US and its allies, and 2) the practical steps needed to integrate all aspects of US and Western power and influence, military and civilian. The shortfall in developing a strategic perspective applies in particular to the Middle East and Southwest Asia, which is still being viewed more as a collection of disparate issues rather than as one overarching requirement with different but interrelated elements.

Jackson Janes: Again, too early to say. He may have overestimated his ability to steer the Congress with Democratic majorities in his direction and underestimated the ability of the republicans to block his plans. On the foreign policy front, I think he tried to get more movement in the Israeli-Palestianian negotiations than was doable in one year. But that is all related to the effort to deal with Iran as well.

Judith Klinghoffer: Nothing can be symbolize more perfectly the irrelevance of the ethnicity of an American president than a Nigerian wannabe suicide bomber. Nothing can illustrate better the uselessness of atmospherics than the precipitous rise in Jihadi efforts to terrorize the American homeland. From 2001 to 2009, there were zero successful Islamist attacks on the American homeland. There were 3 successful ones during the last three months killing 13 Americans and injuring dozens. As former CIA director General Michael Hayden implies, the fault lays in part on the Obama administration's shifting of the attention from fighting terrorists to fighting for the rights of terrorists. Nor is there an iota of evidence that the world had become a safer place. Obama's wish to engage Iran has merely served to embolden its hard line rulers, giving them time to develop their nuclear capabilities, arm proxy terrorists armies, and savagely murder their domestic critics. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen have not faired better. "Reset" buttons have not made China and Russia more cooperative merely less respectful, but all the empty talk has made Eastern Europe, India and Israel more nervous. Moreover, for the first time America does not stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for democracy and individual liberty - so much so that students in Tehran carry banners asking: "Obama are you with us or against us?"

Peter Regli, Former Major General: "We can nevertheless observe that President Obama still has no clear or coherent strategy for…
Peter Regli, Former Major General: "We can nevertheless observe that President Obama still has no clear or coherent strategy for major issues."
It is true that economists no longer warn of a global economic collapse. However, the Obama administration has not only paid an exorbitant price for the so called global economic stabilization but has done so at the expense of its weakest citizens. Printing vast amounts of dollars, and embarking on humongous government spending benefited those with enough money to dare invest in the post March 2009 stock market and workers in the public sector. In the meantime, a myriad of Obama legislative initiatives from health care reform to cap and trade to financial regulation reform have left the private sector unable to plan effectively. The result? A widespread hiring freeze and a 10% official unemployment rate. To make matters worse, official African American unemployment reached 15.6% and official youth unemployment (16-24) reached 19.1% . 18% of Americans are getting foodstamps. For the first time, most Americans believe that their children will be worse of than they are.

Walter Laqueur: Obama's failures-too many apologies for past policies. This should be compared with Putin declarations more than once that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest misfortune of the last century.

I am not sure what Obama's strategy is concerning Afghanistan (I hope there is a strategy). The war there could, of course, be won but for this much greater resources would be needed. The main American weakness in recent decades has been intervention with insufficient forces in various parts of the world. If there is not sufficient political will and public support such interventions should not be undertaken. Furthermore, victory in Afghanistan would probably mean that Taliban and their allies would retreat to Pakistan where NA TO cannot follow them. In brief, Afghanistan should mainly become the problem of its neighbors-Russia, China, India.

Mike Munson: His biggest failures are in the health arena and in the agenda the Attorney General is being allowed to pursue.

Klaus Naumann: It might be by far to early to speak of failures but he did so far not succeed in producing tangible results inthree critical areas: He did not persuade Israel to act as flexibly as it might be necessary, he didi not impress Iran to accept the hand he had stretched out and he did not really convince the Europeans to go an extra mile in Afghanistan. The judgement is still out whether his Afghanistan strategy will work successfully and it remains an open question as well whether the interim results in Iraq will last.Using the famous picture of the half full/half empty glass I have a strong tenmdency at this time to call it half empty since I do not have too much hope at this time that President Obama will succeed in persuading Iran to be more flexible and tp behavde much more responsibly. However, should he fail in winning Iran to renounce verifiably of any nuclear weapons program than the prospects for peace in the Greater Middle East will dwindle and the vison of a world free of nuclear weapons will simply fade away.

Peter Regli: After only twelve months it is too early to speak of failures. We can nevertheless observe that President Obama still has no clear or coherent strategy for major issues like the Israeli-Palestinian standoff, Iran or North Korea. This weakness is, of course, ruthlessly exploited by players like Russia, China, Iran and other actors who are at work shaping the future with their political strength and undemocratic, totalitarian behavior.

Obama's decision on the strategy to follow in Afghanistan (the 'surge') is still difficult to assess. Afghanistan remains a no-win situation for foreign powers, as we know from history. The only question seems finally to be: how can the U.S./NATO forces best withdraw and still save face? Obama's personal commitment and support for the President of Afghanistan, re-elected through fraud and corruption, is a difficult position to hold and finds no understanding in world opinion.

Hon. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Andrea Riemer: "He simply did not have enough time to tackle huge junks under difficult conditions."
Hon. Assoc. Prof. Dr. Andrea Riemer: "He simply did not have enough time to tackle huge junks under difficult conditions."
For a European observer it is difficult to assess Mr. Obama's political achievements on the U.S. home front. Stuck in the eternal competition between Republicans and Democrats, this President seems to be a hostage of the political system in Washington, ruled by strong party political interests, lobby and pressure groups. This is especially true for all strategic questions of foreign policy, where U.S. national interests overrule general, worldwide interests. The disaster of the Climate Summit in Copenhagen is a typical example.

Andrea Riemer: He could not materialize on many things which I would not consider as a failure - he simply did not have enough time to tackle huge junks under difficult conditions (economic crisis; two wars).

Barry Rubin: Failure to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue; unintentional sabotage of the Israel-Palestinian issue by the whole construction freeze detour; low credibility in confronting radical regimes throughout the world so that their local opponents-and U.S. friends (notably Saudi Arabia)-are getting further into appeasement; failure to grasp Turkey's transfer to the Iranian, Islamist camp; failure to support moderate forces in Lebanon; collapse of efforts to deter North Korea; abandonment of pro-democratic moderates notably in Iran; and lots more. A key mistake which will cost in future is a decision on Afghanistan that blends the worst aspects of a purely political, split the different choice with a deeper commitment in a war far more unwinnable than that in Iraq.

Siddharth Srivastava: I think the American people are going to judge Obama by the way he handles the domestic economy, unless another unfortunate terror strike occurs on USA soil. It is difficult to judge from here in India how Obama is being perceived on fighting the recession.

One has to wait a little longer, though the signs from India are that software and other export companies are now increasingly turning to markets in China and South East Asia for potential growth, rather than America.

On the international sphere, I feel that Obama should have shown more leadership qualities in taking forward the fight against climate change, especially at Copenhagen, the way the European Union has been doing until now. I think it is a folly to link emission reduction efforts of emerging economies like India and China to America's own commitments. Because of this the issue remains unresolved.

Heinz Vetschera:

On the domestic level:

The economic crisis has not yet been overcome. While the banking sector could be stabilized by massive financial interventions, unemployment has not been addressed in a similar way, which delays economic recovery. Finally, the (failed) terrorist attack on an American airliner at Christmas must be seen as a major failure in homeland security. .The attack failed not because of working US security measures but because of a technical failure of the terrorist, and the quick reaction by a passenger.

On the international level:

The most serious failure is the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, despite increased engagement of the US.

Barry Rubin, Director GLORIA Center: "One would hope they have learned but one can see that they have not."
Barry Rubin, Director GLORIA Center: "One would hope they have learned but one can see that they have not."
In a similar development, despite a clear commitment to restore a positive climate with the Muslim (in particular Arab) world, radical, anti-western and explicitly anti-American Muslim radicalism appears on the rise. The same is true for violent radicalism, i. e. terrorism, as could be shown with the (failed) terrorist attack on an American airliner at Christmas. This, too, must be seen as a major failure.

Also, no progress has been made in solving the Israeli-Palestinian (as well as the inter-Palestinian) conflict, despite some promises by the Obama-administration to address this issue.

Dieter Farwick: What should we expect for the near future? - here keeping in mind that in one year's time there will be mid-term elections, by tradition a litmus test for the government

Bob Hunter: The mid-terms are classically a referendum on domestic policy, and the period beforehand has little impact on US foreign policy, other than when partisanship intrudes: but this year, partisanship on issues like terrorism only reinforces the President's determination to keep the nation safe. Overall, he can be expected to build upon what he has started -- with key tests being whether he will demand a higher level of strategic thinking in the administration, can be constant in his efforts to engage states like Iran, and is able to deal with the major wildcards: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and terrorism threats.

Jackson Janes: We will continue to see him focused on Afghanistan as a test for his decision on the surge. He will have to set up a framework with his partners in Europe, Russia and China to deal with Teheran while making sure that relations with Israel are in sync with that. His push for progress on global zero in arms control will have a number of platforms during the year.

As far as the November elections are concerned, he will need to demonstrate effectiveness in responding to the terror threats at home and in areas where it is being produced - Yemen Somalia.


Judith Klinghoffer: So, what does the future hold for the Obama administration? It is too early to tell. Much will depend on his ability to learn and change course. Obama is using Chicago-style strong- arming techniques at home, while kowtowing to kings and dictators abroad. To forestall big Democratic loses in the 2010 elections, he will have to reverse tactics. He will need to flex some muscles abroad, and be more respectful to his critics at home and realize that pretty, abstract speeches will not suffice - blaming George W. Bush will not do. To turn his presidency around he must convince Americans that he puts them first. He must create a stable business atmosphere which will encourage private job creation, and cut the budget deficit. It is a tall order ,but who said that being an American president is easy?!

Siddharth Srivastava, WSN Editor India: "On the international sphere, I feel that Obama should have shown more leadership qualities."
Siddharth Srivastava, WSN Editor India: "On the international sphere, I feel that Obama should have shown more leadership qualities."
Walter Laqueur: What to expect in the near future? The policy of "engagement" (I.e.talking to adversaries or potential adversaries) will continue, probably with a little less enthusiasm as it becomes clear that it may not work on decisive issues. There are signs for a more sober attitude-Obama's Oslo speech about evil in the world and the fact that some forces cannot be appeased. It should be tried-be it for the sake of history only, otherwise there will be endless accusations of "missed opportunities". But more thought should be given to what American strategy should be if engagement does not work. This is a very unpleasant issue and it is my impression that so far the administration has been shying away from it.

Mike Munson: I believe you can expect a swing away from Democrats in the midterm elections. This will be even more pronounced if the economy worsens. The health legislation popularity is probably around 30% and will cost the democrats votes. Releasing the prisoners from Guantanamo and a perceived weak program here at home for dealing with terrorism will also hurt. He will continue to work well withhis Asian and old European allies.

Klaus Naumann: None of these issues will be prominent on the American voters' minds in fall this year. Elections in democracies are won on domestic issues. There the one issue which will also determine America's influence in the world will loom large: Will the Administration be successful in overcoming the financial/economic crisis and will it be able to demonstrate that they have a concept of reducing the national debts without becoming more dependent on the financial power of competing foreigners.

Peter Regli: For the time being, the Obama administration gives the impression of fighting on different fronts. Yet these fights are uncoordinated, weak, indecisive, and lack a clear global vision. The 'Obama fan club' could soon give up its support for the 'sunshine kid'. China, Russia, Iran, Hamas, Israel and other players can, therefore, shape their own policies and disregard common goals. The Europeans, normally split on major strategic issues because of their individual national interests, remain observers and have to realize that their strategic importance will diminish ever more in the future. The EU remains a bureaucratic paper tiger with no weight and influence in the strategic security arena. Obama's USA seems to be gradually losing both credibility and leadership in favor of other global challengers: China, India, but also organized crime and the fast-growing fundamentalist, politicized Islam.

Important issues such as the Near and Middle East, Iran or Afghanistan require clear-cut answers, immediate solutions and coordinated implementation before the U.S. presidential reelection circus gains momentum; this is already anticipated within the coming year. Thereafter, brilliant initiatives by the U.S. President will not be easy to move forward anymore, as history teaches us. The President should switch soon from "yes we can" to "it's time to do!"

Andrea Riemer: He will continue on his path - no major gifts should be expected.

Barry Rubin: One would hope they have learned but one can see that they have not. Most notably, they keep setting back the timetable for sanctions on Iran and have now narrowed those sanctions to the point of ineffectiveness.

Siddharth Srivastava: I think Obama's twin foci will be the economy and terrorism, with climate change being a third possible arena of action. As I said earlier, it is too early to judge, but the signs are that the American people will give Obama a long rope to deliver as he is still coming to terms with his responsibilities and others' expectations. It depends on how he stands up to them.

BrigGen (ret) Heinz Vetschera, Political Consultant: "The adoption of the Health Care legislation by the Congress can be seen as…
BrigGen (ret) Heinz Vetschera, Political Consultant: "The adoption of the Health Care legislation by the Congress can be seen as a major achievement on the domestic level."
Heinz Vetschera: Unless something unexpected would happen (as e.g. a major terrorist attack on the US, a sudden melt-down in Pakistan, a revolution in Iran or the like), the administration would most likely continue with its agenda.

For the mid-term elections, we have to take into account that elections are mostly won on domestic issues (again under the condition that no dramatic developments would take place on the international level).

Thus, on the domestic level the administration is likely to make health reform work and to address further domestic issues like economic recovery, educational reform, etc. Also, it will most probably step up and improve security measures against terrorist attacks (albeit in a less emotional way as it had been under the previous administration).

On the international level, the Obama administration will have to show that its new Afghanistan strategy is going to yield results. Only then its new strategy will become credible also for the electorate, with direct impact on the mid-term elections. Also, it is likely to give high priority to stabilizing Pakistan, meaning also a deeper involvement if necessary. The increased activities in other geographic areas to combat terrorism (as the most recent activities in Yemen) demonstrate the administration's willingness for increased efforts in this field, most probably not a least also with an eye on the upcoming mid-term elections.

On other international issues (like the Middle East, nuclear proliferation, relations with Russia and China), the administration is likely to continue with its strategy of being liberal/cooperative in procedure, but realist in substance.

Again, these trends are to be expected as long as there would be no sharp turn in the development. One could, for example expect that the agenda would have had to be changed significantly if the attempted suicide bombing of an American airliner at Christmas would have succeeded. Then, both out of strategic necessity but also to demonstrate leadership to the electorate, a more aggressive response would have been likely.