THE BLOG

Obama Holding the Fort, for Now

Since taking office, President Obama has been more of a manager than a leader. Mostly, he has managed expectations - but also the deteriorating foreign policy he inherited from his predecessor.

He made symbolic foreign policy gestures to please his progressive and liberal supporters, as well as enacting new policies to appease the establishment's military and political heavyweights.

President Obama declared that he would shut down Guantanamo but then postponed its closure. He extended a hand to the Muslim world, then at his generals' demand, escalated the war in Afghanistan.

He demanded a total Israeli settlement freeze then backed down. He announced plans for a world free of nuclear weapons, but went on to implement it selectively against Iran.

Obama's foreign policy sermons preached new foreign policy on the basis of "mutual respect and mutual interest" and extended "a hand to those who unclench their fists."

In less than a year, he's seeking to impose more sanctions on Tehran, and extend America's clenched fist to "extremists" in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.

Dazzling President ...
The president left no prompter behind. His flowery speeches from Istanbul to Cairo, his appeals from Prague to Ghana, and his charming encounters from Trinidad to China have dazzled leaders and people around the world.

But the lack of follow up has left both America and the rest of the world disillusioned. But nowhere is it as grave as in the Muslim world, where foreign military intervention, chaos and violence go on unabated.

Although the president has reversed much of the damage done to US political language under his predecessor, he has been widely criticised for being long on speech, short on actions.

While that's true, there should be no mistake about the power of language. It is of great significance to how the leader of the world's only superpower articulates his vision and formulates his government's strategy.

Replacing the ''War on Terror'' with ''War on Al-Qaeda'' is not insignificant because it steers away from over generalization. Likewise, disposing of the Bush administration's toxic language about ''good versus evil',' and ''either with us or with the terrorist'' in favor of pragmatic and inclusive language has encouraged other leaders to reciprocate.

The same goes for emphasizing that America doesn't have to choose between its values and security.

... Dizzying Presidency
But the widening gap between rhetoric and reality in Obama's policies has confused foes and friends alike.

Nowhere has this been as paradoxical as when the US president accepted a Nobel Peace prize a few days after he announced sending 30,000 additional troops to arguably a war of choice in Afghanistan against the Taliban. His speech about "just wars" doctrine did little to tone down the skepticism of America's Commander-in-Chief

The same goes for his warnings against global warming but not doing all it takes to ensure a climate change treaty in Copenhagen.

However, with an overwhelming domestic agenda, including preoccupation with controversial healthcare and banking rescue and reform, the foreign policy agenda has all too often taken the back seat, with the exception of managing the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan.

This meant much of the US president's political capital was spent on rallying conservative and skeptical lawmakers to support his domestic agenda.

Likewise, many of the Republicans and Democrats who were willing to support the president on certain domestic issues demanded more in return. And strong lobbies, like the oil, military, or Israeli lobbies had much at stake and echoed more of the same demands on the pragmatic US president.

Bailing out America
There is no doubt that Obama has succeeded in drastically slowing down what appeared as a free fall under his predecessor's reckless, arrogant, and unilateral foreign and economic policies.

The president's financial rescue plan has, for now, kick-started the economy but with a very heavy cost to the economy in the long run.

And the Pentagon, like the banks, has proven too big to fail. They continue to be subsidized to the tune of $700bn annually, almost double its pre-2001 budget and no less than the combined military spending of all other nations.

Like all great empires, American superpower has been built on financial might and backed by the military. As its debt skyrockets, money dries up, and its military fails to achieve swift victories against weak opponents, so too will its status deteriorate and its might dwindle. President Obama can only hold the fort for so long.