President Obama – More Jimmy Carter Than JFK?

By Julian Knight, Michael Pattison

It all started so well. ‘Hope’, ‘Change’ and ‘Yes we can’ became the slogans of America’s first black president, Barack Obama. A key moment in his election campaign was addressing a mass rally of over 100,000 people in, of all places, Berlin. Here was a president who, it seemed, was in touch with ordinary people and would restore America’s position as not just the most powerful nation on earth but the most widely respected. A modern day JF Kennedy according to the publicity.

But that was then and this is now. As President Obama nears the end of his second term in office there are many who question his legacy in terms of bills passed, economic prosperity and foreign policy. A painful and protracted battle to introduce new basic health care provisions for America’s poorest – dubbed Obamacare by the media – was ultimately successful but proved highly controversial. The US economy, along with the rest of the world, has been slow to recover from the global financial crisis of 2008 and as a result, China has been catching up fast in the economic race. But it is in the area of foreign policy – so important in defining an American president’s legacy – where the biggest question marks lie.

Under President Obama’s watch, Russia has annexed the Crimea and behaved aggressively with its neighbours, the Middle East has been thrown into turmoil once again, a dangerous terrorist ‘state’ has emerged encompassing large parts of Iraq and Syria, and the ultra-secretive and repressive North Korean regime has managed to become a nuclear power, all in defiance of America. In fact many commentators have criticised President Obama for being too passive in his foreign policy, allowing international opponents to gain ground and threaten key interests of the West.

Whereas President Obama’s predecessor President George W Bush was seen by many as being too gung-ho and got America involved in unnecessary international conflicts (most notably the invasion of Iraq in 2003), Obama is seen as being too timid a president. Such is President Obama’s perceived timidity that instead of being compared to the great American President JF Kennedy – who successfully stared down the Russians when they wanted to put nuclear missiles in Cuba – he is increasingly seen as more akin to democratic President Jimmy Carter (1976-1980), who also presided over a sluggish domestic economy and suffered the international humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis, when US officials were held for months in Tehran by the then newly formed revolutionary Islamic government.