Political Promise

A Flip-Flop President or simply a struggling nominee?

In Graeme Morrison on April 26, 2011 at 8:00 am

As the Republicans look through their talent pool to decide who will contest for the nomination for President of the United States, the current holder of that office must now see himself as a hostage to events, says Graeme Morrison.

The Libyan crisis has perhaps revealed the President’s thinking more than other issue from the last four years. Having been faced with tough opposition on health care and the erosion of public confidence, the President sought to return to ‘Commander-in-Chief’ with some tough talk towards BP on the oil spill.

As the election nears Obama’s every step will be scrutinised even more intensely. The last thing a successor of George W Bush would want on the eve of an election is another Middle Eastern crisis breaking out. The shifting position of the Obama administration is reflective of a government worried that their re-election prospects hang by a very tender thread.  At time of writing, Obama has an average job approval rating of 46.3%, with 66.5% of those polled believing the country is on the wrong track.

The United States is a nation that is more instinctively conservative than Britain, placing a high premium on patriotism and defending the constitution. If one policy area can swing the White House in an election year, it is foreign policy. The shadow of the Cold War continues to largely inform American thinking and thus America’s place in the world will always play a strong part in election campaigns. Obama’s initial hesitation to involve America in another conflict in Libya may have been seen as a sensible course, having had their fingers burned in both Afghanistan and Iraq. His recent departure from this position begs the question; is this simply a reaction to Gaddafi’s defiance or the image of his apparent weakness in contrast to the more interventionist European nations (most notably France)? Whichever way one looks at this issue, it represents the difficult predicament the once seemingly untouchable Obama finds himself in. Republican Senator Rand Paul pounced on what can be seen as a ‘flip-flopping’ approach to foreign policy, reminding a gathering in Iowa that Obama contradicted his pre-election position of non-interference without Congressional approval. In short, he has moved from being a passive observer to a hypocrite. It is difficult to escape the notion that the election has played a role in his approach.

It is difficult to predict whether or not Obama will still be in Washington come January 2013. We wait to see how the American public react to the Republican nominee. As we know from the example the last Labour government in Britain, events constrain the incumbent rather than the challenger. Obama has a positive vision for the United States, where he aims to even out much of the injustice that has plagued American society for many years. His healthcare programme was one such step. His aspiration for a new foreign policy is desirable also. His difficulty may be that four years is not enough to revolutionise a nation’s thinking however. Only after a second term would we have any indication if there has been a decent level of success. The term limit has unfortunately thwarted an ambitious president and a good man.

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