In response to last week’s rather lukewarm assessment of President Obama’s first year accomplishments in foreign policy, I come down far more on the negative side. In comparison with expectations, which were sky-high at his inauguration, the new President has failed in much during a difficult first year.

First, let us remind ourselves of the hysteria of the 20 January 2009. A black man had been elected to President of the USA for the first time and the country seemed to be relatively united and excited for what many saw as a fresh start after the Bush years. Even the more sceptical observers expected changes to how America was ruled and how America ruled abroad. Re-energised negotiations would bring hope to the Israel-Palestine conflict, new policy would bring success to the action in Afghanistan and American led multilateralism in international organisations would help solve the global problems of the 21st century like climate change. Meanwhile, the President would, allied with a Congress filled with dominant and united Democrats, look to readdress issues such as healthcare and the closure of Guantanamo Bay – both so important to Obama’s election campaign. Wrapping all these packages up was a belief in a new kind of politics. Obama would use rational argument instead of the fear that Bush thrived upon. Opponents would be talked around, and reforms introduced because they were needed instead of to attack ‘enemies’.

Now, with these hopes in mind, what has Obama’s first year included? The Democratic Party looks to be in free-fall after the loss of Edward Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat to the relatively unknown Republican Scott Brown. Central to this upset in one of the most liberal states in America is Obama’s healthcare reform plans. Independent voters who had loved Obama last winter are now flocking to the Republican Party in fear of what the reforms may mean. A ‘Tea Party’ movement has gained in strength and now stages regular protests at what many Americans view as an introduction of socialism. Of course, many arguments against the reform package have been full of propaganda, lies and misconceptions but this has not stopped the Obama reform plans grinding to a halt. Obama now languished around the 50% approval mark, after enjoying 70% approval just a few months ago. As a consequence, Democrats in Congress have become more and more wary of following the President on a package that looks increasingly unpopular – especially with mid-term elections approaching next year.

On the international scene, Obama was unable to find significant agreement at Copenhagen to tackle climate change, Afghanistan remains a running sore that threatens to derail a Presidency while NATO allies look unwilling to commit troops to support the American surge, and Gaza has continued to confound leaders around the world who have been unable to find any answer to Israeli settlements.

Any explanations for why this first year has been difficult may hide behind the problems left behind by the previous President. Undoubtedly the economy has left Obama in a very difficult position domestically and Afghanistan has left him in a similarly difficult position internationally. However, we should remember the Democratic Party, until this week held 60 seats in the Senate and a significant majority in the House of Representatives. President Obama has somehow turned these numbers into very little achievements. Some have compared him to President Kennedy who arrived on the scene amidst a cloud of hope but achieved little in comparison to his follower – LBJ – who passed many key bills including the Equal Rights Act in his first six months. Why was he able to do this? Because he had previously been Senate majority Leader meaning he knew how to work Congress. Perhaps Obama’s inexperience has been exposed, just as Kennedy’s was at times.

What faces Obama now is the prospect of a year preparing for mid-term elections at the same time as battling the banks (which may see the stock market collapse). Alongside this may be a Republican Party and a middle America ready to fight any battle that Obama sends their way. An America, united under a charismatic leader, looks to be just as far off as it was before the famous inauguration of last year.

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