US President Obama has passed through the most difficult year in office, suffering one humiliating blow after another. Mounting domestic problems – from racial tensions to the CIA torture scandal, loss of control of the Congress followed by the diminishing global role of the US and failure of reset policy with Russia sent Obama’s rating to a historic low.
Studio guest Alexander Domrin, Professor at the High School of Economics, Fyodor Voitolovsky, deputy Director of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and Ángel Ricardo Martínez, independent geopolitical analyst from Panama, shared their opinions with Radio Sputnik.
What can you tell us about Obama, how powerful is he in terms of being a President and where exactly are his powers lying?
Alexander Domrin: President Obama is the president of lost expectations. President Obama is not just a lame duck, he is a humiliated lame duck – humiliated not only on the international arena, including by Russia, but also by his fellow Americans. Take a look at Ferguson, take a look at what is going on in America right now, take a look at all those failed expectations that the Americans had about him. A President who was elected not like just a president, but like a rock star president, somebody who got the Nobel Prize for Peace without lifting a finger and after all those great expectations he is one of the biggest losers.
But what is the reason for that? What went wrong?
Alexander Domrin: From my point of view, President Obama didn’t have all that power that he was expected to have and to demonstrate. Not only the power of the President, of the Commander in Chief, but the intellectual power as well. He is somebody who never was an administrator in any way. The highest administrative position that he has ever reached was the editor-in-chief of a student law review magazine. After President Bush, after the two terms of President Bush many Americans wanted to see a change. Unfortunately, this change didn’t work.
Recently the Freedom of Ukraine bill was signed and actually Obama signed this bill as well, although he said that the US doesn’t plan to apply any more sanctions against Russia. But what do you think, did Obama want to sign this bill or was he actually pressured into signing it because of what is happening in Congress?
Fyodor Voitolovsky: The previous sanctions were applied by the President with the so-called executive act. There was a possibility to stop each of them without any decision from the Congress. Now the situation is getting more complicated, because now he has the resources from the Congress to use every executive act as a bill supported by the Congress. And of course, it changes the situation, because it would require not only the President’s power, but the power of Congress to stop each of the decisions on the new sanctions.
That is more complicated for the President, because if he will decide to change the attitude towards Russia and to stop the sanctions, and stop using this mechanism of political pressure, he could receive the resistance of the Congress. This is more complicated than it used to be.
What is the reason for the diminishing role of the US at the global scale?
Fyodor Voitolovsky: There are some positive results of Obama administration in terms of American economy and domestic policy. The principle one is the result of the shale oil and gas revolution. And I think that the shale gas revolution which has become one of the drivers of the American economy has changes some attitudes towards Obama, but not all of them.
And in terms of foreign policy, I think that Obama lost most of the opportunities he could have had in the first term of his presidency, because he has began with a lot of expectations, especially about ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he promised to do that for the nation. But now we can see the results. We can see that we’ve got the ISIS in Iraq, we have a possibility of destabilization in Afghanistan which is possibly growing, and the Pakistani situation shows that not only Afghanistan could destabilize in the closer perspective.
We have an absolutely trouble-making foreign policy in the Russian direction. And he has began with the reset, but he didn’t want to invest solid political capital into the new relations with Russia. So, now we have the crisis. And he didn’t initiate anything to build a serious economic background for the new relations. And we see what could happen in the political sphere when the US and the EU are trying to use the rules of the game, which we can describe as “the winner takes all” in the Ukrainian case.
And on the other directions of the US foreign policy, including the foreign policy in Latin America, including a very famous part of Obama’s foreign policy, which is called the Pacific pivot or now it is called rebalancing, in this new strategy in the Asia-Pacific we do not see any serious result. We do not see also that the two most ambitious projects of Obama – the Transpacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Partnership of Trade and Investment – are close to being realized in the near future.
How much of it is Obama’s personal responsibility and what more could he have done to actually do something good for the foreign policy?
Fyodor Voitolovsky: I think that the president is symbolizing the foreign policy, he is the driver of the foreign policy. But he is not the only one who is responsible. Of course, in each case it depends on the quality of expertise, it depends on the quality of administration, it depends on the qualification of the people who are responsible, who are working for the administration in the National Security Council, in the State Department and in all the parts of the American political mechanism, including the Congress who are involved in organizing and developing the foreign policy initiatives which are used by the president to change the foreign policy agenda.
The US and Cuba are trying to restore the diplomatic relations, how much of a surprise what this for everybody in the region?
Ángel Ricardo Martínez: I wrote an analysis almost two years ago in which I said it was an imminent thing. They were bound to eventually reestablish their ties. But it was also a big surprise that it was so sudden. They started having all these gestures one year ago with that handshake in Johannesburg. And then, little by little you start having these bits of information here and there, and then suddenly this week you hear about the imminent release of Alan Gross. And then suddenly you have Obama on the screen announcing this major change in the 50 years of politics.
So, in a way, it was a surprise, but it was also something that everyone knew was going to happen sooner or later. Especially on the side of Cuba, Cuba was really dependent on Venezuela and everyone knows that Venezuela right now is in a situation that is very dire. So, it was a matter of time. And it also tells us a lot about how things are in Venezuela right now.
Does this bold move mean that, probably, President Obama wants to go into history as the leader who initiated the rapprochement with Cuba?
Ángel Ricardo Martínez: Yes, totally. I mean, this is the major history and you can see that kind of intention. If you look at Obama’s patter of behavior – he started as the President who was willing to talk to Congress, that was willing to build consensus at his own level. And now you see how divided the American politics are. So, now you are seeing all these initiatives, like what he did on the issue of immigration. It was basically like – I want to do this. And it was pretty like his decision.
And now he is doing this on Cuba. He might to the same with Iran. And obviously, we know that there is going to be a big battle in the Congress. Already a lot of congressmen have said that we are going to block this. And there has been a major reaction against it in the Cuban exile community. And what really was remarkable is that Obama was saying that we are stopping this, because this doesn’t work. I mean, in a country where you have all this discourse of liberty and democracy, and all these things, suddenly you have the president telling the world – you know what? Our policy doesn’t work, we have failed in the 50-year policy towards this country.
And now everyone is asking themselves – okay, if this justifies Cuba, how can you justify your actions against other countries, including Russia. If you are saying that the sanctions don’t work for 50 years on a small island, how are they going to work towards other countries? So, it also brought a lot of questions, both in the region and at a global scale.
Looking into the future, how could you summarize what the main achievements were and what can be done?
Ángel Ricardo Martínez: I think the presidency that he imagined he was going to have turned out to be a totally different thing. So, now in this last time that he has, he is basically a lame duck, especially now, that in January the Congress is going to be controlled by the Republicans completely.
He is pushing this major policy initiatives and I think the thing with Cuba now is a sign of his new attitude in a way. I think we are going to see a very different Obama. And I think in the whole Iran thing also. I mean, the fact that how naturally they announced that they were extending the negotiations. These people were not talking to each other for 35 years and then suddenly their foreign ministers are shaking hands and smiling, and praising each other.
So, these are the major changes and the way that Obama is pushing them through, I think now he doesn’t really care what the Congress thinks, he doesn’t really care what the opposition thinks. He is obviously ready for the battle at the domestic level. But I think he’s got a sense of what the US needs. There is a lot of opposition to many of these moves that need to be done for the Americans. And I think that in this last time that he’s got, he is going to bring the battle to them. I think that is basically what he is doing.