Barack Obama is competent as President

United States

Marcus Pindur

Dr. Marcus Pindur is a radio journalist in the capital studio of Deutschlandfunk. From 2012 to 2016 Pindur was the US correspondent for Deutschlandradio.

With the election of the new US president, Barack Obama's term of office also ends. A good eight years ago, he took over government affairs in difficult economic and foreign policy times. Marcus Pindur dares to take a first look back at his presidency with the help of expert voices.



Overview of the questions

0:25 Was Obama a Transformative President?

1:11 How did the election of the first black president come about?

3:07 What impact did the 2008/2009 financial crisis have on the American middle class?

5:40 How do you rate the healthcare reform? Is it a historical socio-political turning point?

8:14 Was it still possible for Barack Obama to cooperate with Congress after the majorities in Congress / Senate changed in 2010?

11:07 Why was there new racial discrimination and new civil rights movements among the black population under Obama?

14:51 Foreign Policy Issue: Has the international credibility of US foreign policy been damaged by failure to intervene after violating the red line in Syria?

16:48 Has the withdrawal from the red line been included in Putin's calculation?

17:30 Does Europe have to expect another US withdrawal from international politics after the presidential election?

19:37 Did the announced turn to Asia take place during Obama's term of office?

21:39 What's Left of the NSA Affair?

23:10 Is the "nuclear deal" with Iran a success?

24:11 Conclusion: is Barack Obama disenchanted?

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About the interviewee

PD Dr. Martin Thunert has worked as a lecturer at the Heidelberg Center for American Studies at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universit├Ąt Heidelberg since 2007. In addition, the political scientist is an associated member of the Center for North America Research at the University of Frankfurt.

In the following text, Marcus Pindur gives a brief overview of Barack Obama's presidency with the help of experts:

Newly elected American presidents are always greeted with hope and confidence in the United States. In the American political system, a new presidency is both a confirmation of the 240-year-old model of democracy and a promise of renewal for a better future. But rarely has an American president been expected and overloaded with so many hopes at the beginning of his term of office as Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the USA. His style, his auspicious rhetoric and the promise to reconcile the politically divided American people with themselves again appealed to people across generations and parties - not only in the USA.

"Americans send a message to the world that Americans have never been just a collection of individuals or a collections of red states and blue states, we are and always will be the United States of America!" (Barack Obama)

America is more than a collection of Republican and Democratic states, said Obama on election night in 2008. America is the United States of America. He wanted to be a political pontiff, a president to build bridges. At the end of his tenure, however, the US is more divided than ever. The political climate is poisoned. Compromises are considered treason by many. The Congress is incapable of acting as a political institution.

Barack Obama bears only a very small part of the responsibility for this. But the contrast between the almost messianic expectations of him and the banal political reality at the end of his term in office is striking. Political scientist Martin Thunert from believes that the high expectations can partly be explained by the frustration of the Bush years Heidelberg Center for American Studieswho wrote a book about the Obama presidency.

"Well, he won the election against John McCain because there was an enormous mood of change in the US in 2008 after the eight years of Bush. The Democrats had already won the Congress in a landslide in 2006. And the Republicans had also put up a candidate with McCain, who on the one hand has a high level of competence in security and foreign policy, but who was completely unsuitable for the economic and financial crisis that was the leitmotif for this election. " (Martin Thunert)

The young president had to go through the fire of the biggest economic and financial crisis in the US since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It burned on all political and economic fronts. And the expectations of him were high - too high, thinks the former coordinator for German-American relations in the Federal Foreign Office, Karsten Voigt. "I was in favor of his election and at the same time I warned against too high expectations in Germany. It went so far that some people said that I was anti-American, but the background was actually that I was sure that the people could not assess how far the Congress would limit his ability to act. And that, therefore, the exaggerated expectations would subsequently lead to exaggerated disappointments. "

Obama pushed a nearly $ 800 billion stimulus package through Congress to keep the American economy from sliding from recession into depression. The American automobile companies General Motors and Chrysler were saved from bankruptcy with $ 80 billion in emergency loans. The conditions were strict: the management was forced to resign, the automobile companies had to give an account of how the state funds were used.

At the same time, homebuyers could apply for government aid if they got into credit problems. Nevertheless, several million houses had to be foreclosed. Large parts of the American middle class were on the verge of panic: Buying a house is not only part of the American dream of self-employment and independence, but also a very pragmatic part of retirement provision.

The unemployment rate has long since recovered and is below five percent, with steady growth at a good two percent. But the pure numbers look better than the perceived reality. While the middle class in particular had to pay for the consequences of gambling on the real estate and credit markets, banks and the automotive industry were saved by the state. This discrepancy found its political expression in the Tea Party movement. On the left spectrum, the Occupy Wall Street movement was formed, the offshoots of which would fuel Bernie Sanders' election campaign five years later.

Obama's most important domestic political project was: health insurance for all Americans. There were angry protests by Republicans against the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Obama said shortly after the law came into force, they were afraid that Obamacare would be a success. In the 2012 election campaign, Obama defended his reforms in every speech. "One of the biggest newspapers in the country recently published an editorial - I thought it was pretty good - they said: the Republicans in Congress are poisoning Obamacare, the trying to claim it's sick ..." (Barack Obama)

Republicans poisoned the atmosphere with their attacks on health care reform, Obama said.

Middle-class families in particular should benefit from it. Tax subsidies help families pay health insurance contributions. In addition, Obamacare establishes minimum standards for health insurance. For Martin Thunert a clear socio-political step forward.

"Obama correctly assessed the political balance of power in Congress. He absolutely wanted to have a reform that eliminated two things above all else: reducing the number of uninsured people, in other words introducing something like individual compulsory insurance, which he largely succeeded in doing. And he wanted to prevent people with previous illnesses from losing their policies or not being admitted at all. " (Martin Thunert)

16 million Americans now have health insurance that was previously uninsured. And nearly 95 percent of all Americans have health insurance today - a record high.

For the Republicans and the Tea Party, however, the opposition to Obamacare has become a political creed. In 2010, the issue went a long way towards tipping the House majority in the midterm elections in favor of the Republicans. Abolishing Obamacare has become a political obsession for Republicans. The increasingly radical Tea Party MPs raised the issue against any parliamentary compromise. Budgets were no longer passed, only existing spending laws were extended. In 2013, the radical wing of the Republicans even caused a so-called for a short time government shutdown, an extensive cessation of state authority activities. The Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz tried to delay the vote on an extension of the budget for as long as possible with a filibuster, a speech with no speaking time limit. Cruz read for hours, including from a children's book - but none of this was harmless. A so-called government shutdown The consequence was that for a short time the world power was only able to maintain its state functions rudimentarily.

A prosperous relationship with the Republicans was becoming increasingly distant. One of the areas in which no compromise seems possible is the gun laws. Even after the rampage in a school in Newtown in December 2012 with 28 dead, there was no majority for stronger gun control laws. On the contrary, the lobby organization National Rifle Association continues to stylize unhindered access to weapons into a metaphor of freedom. The President's frustration is clear to see. "The US has spent more than a trillion dollars," Obama said after another shootout. "... to protect the country from terrorists. But Congress is even preventing data from being collected on how to reduce the number of gun victims. How can that be?"

Racial relations were not always good either. Cases made headlines in which white police officers shot black citizens. In the age of cell phone videos, more and more such cases are coming to light and sometimes leading to angry reactions from the black population, for example in Ferguson, Missouri. "Burn this bitch down", loosely translated: "Burn this damn town down", shouted the stepfather of the shot black Michael Brown after he learned that the alleged perpetrator should not be charged. Such incidents increased, Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder intervened more and more often. Not an easy problem, especially for a black president, says Martin Thunert.

"The other thing is that there is a frustration that Obama shows that a black man can achieve anything in America, including the presidency. But of course the economic crisis also hit the black community particularly hard. And they are not unemployed decreased as much as in the general population. And that triggers a lot of frustration, especially among young black adolescents. " (Martin Thunert)

The president can intervene against discrimination in the judiciary and legal system, but Obama was only able to change the social and educational situation of black citizens to a limited extent - because that can only be done in cooperation with Congress.

Obama not only had to contend with domestic political crises. He started with the intention of fundamentally turning US foreign policy upside down. An end to the warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan Iraq, an end to global American interventionism, an end to the image-damaging Guantanamo. The price for maintaining the global order, which the USA built up significantly after the Second World War, was - and is - too high for many Americans. A new relationship with old opponents should be created. "I firmly believe that US interests are best served with a cooperative, non-confrontational relationship with Russia. That is why I am determined to put the relationship with Russia on a new basis." ... said Obama in 2010 at a summit meeting with the then Russian President Medvedev. With the new relationship with Russia, that seemed to work at first. But the much-vaunted "reset", the restart of American-Russian relations, turned out to be a short-circuit when Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency of Russia. As recent developments in Ukraine and Syria show, Russia is more concerned with restoring its great power than with improving relations with the United States.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Obama's foreign policy is perceived by friends and enemies of the USA as a permanent mode of retreat. Obama made the worst foreign policy mistake in Syria. The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would change its foreign policy calculations, said Obama. The so-called red line has been drawn. But when Assad is shown the use of chemical weapons, Obama does - nothing. A severe loss of international credibility, as many foreign policy experts judge. Putin, whose sole goal is to maintain the Assad regime, took advantage of the resulting power vacuum. One year after Obama's withdrawal from Syria, Putin's forces invade and annex Crimea. One could have something to do with the other, suspects Karsten Voigt.

"It cannot be ruled out that authoritarian rulers will be influenced in their risk calculation if they suspect that the USA will not really get involved militarily. I do not consider that impossible. But it is also something where they can miscalculate. If they do USA have made an experience that their non-engagement is abused by others for goals that the Americans perceive as directed against them, then there always comes a point where the Americans then get involved relatively massively. And so I believe that a Such a point in time is approaching. I believe that after the elections, if Trump is not elected, but Hillary Clinton is elected, both in the Middle East and against Russia will be more determined and more risk-conscious again. " (Karsten Voigt)

If Clinton is elected as Obama's successor, it is expected that she will pursue a more robust foreign policy course than her predecessor. But it too will have to take into account the intervention fatigue of the American population. For Europeans this means that in the medium term they should prepare for a greater degree of foreign and security policy action.

The NSA affair had a big echo in Germany, but not much of it remained in the USA, says Martin Thunert. "In the US you are relatively painless when it comes to wiretapping people outside the US. You are actually grateful for any information you can get. There was a certain uproar when it came out that the NSA was also active domestically And a lot has been done against it, but this moral indignation about wiretapping citizens of friendly countries has had little resonance in the USA, in Great Britain and even in France. " (Martin Thunert)

The editor of the time and lecturer in international relations at the Stanford UniversityJosef Joffe recently called Obama's foreign policy "dreamy". For him, Obama's presidency does not make any sense of foreign policy. But the president must have had doubts at some point. Otherwise he would not have sent American special troops, trainers and aircraft to combat ISIS in the Middle East. Karsten Voigt interprets Obama's foreign policy more prosaically: as an adjustment. The United States aligned its international role with American capabilities. America therefore needs allies.

"And that also means that they have to take their interests and viewpoints into account. And if you don't want to override yourself - and the American people are of the opinion that you shouldn't get too involved - then it's better if you do concentrates on a few points, and these few points will require so much strength and concentration, including intellectual discipline, in the next few years in the Middle East, towards China, towards Russia, that I would not speak of a retreat. " (Karsten Voigt)

Perhaps Obama's legacy is more contradictory than both his admirers and critics would like to see. Obama: a president who talked a lot about peace and who brought many American troops home. Obama, who waged a drone war against Al Qaeda and who again sent American troops to Iraq and Syria. And a president who learned in the course of his presidency that the world is no better world without America as a regulatory power.

Marcus Pindur's contribution first appeared on Deutschlandfunk on September 19, 2016: http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/die-amtszeit-von-barack-obama-ein-widerspruechliches-erbe.724.de.html?dram:article_id=366077