Obama tempted by isolationism

One year after his first step in the White House, Barack Obama addressed Wednesday night his first State of the Union to the American nation (see full text on the website of the White House). Accustomed to long speeches, the exercise could have been a further proof of the qualities as an orator of the American President if he had enjoyed a comfortable popularity. But one year after his election, Barack Obama rates only 50% approval in the United States. With the recent defeat of the Democrats in the Massachusetts, the President will be put in trouble in a Senate where his party does not detain a qualified majority anymore.

In short, as he himself says, « when I ran for president, I promised I wouldn’t just do what was popular – I would do what was necessary« . According to him and the Democrats the health care reform in the United States was necessary. It was also necessary to send 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan. But these measures have left many voters unsatisfied.

Barack Obama has disappointed even his own camp, but it is also due to the huge hopes based on his presidency. He analyzes this frustration by himself as a consequence to the fact that « change has not come fast enough« , but stressed the difficulties inherited from the previous presidency, including “two wars, an economy rocked by a severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt”.

But in the eyes of the outside world, what seems alarming is the little space granted to foreign policy in his speech. Roger Cohen points out in an op-ed in the New York Times (Exit AmericaNY Times, 28/1/2010): “To judge by the nine paltry minutes devoted to international affairs in a State of the Union address of more than one hour, he’s weary of America policing the globe ». And he then adds : « When Israel-Palestine merits not a word from a president, you know the United States is turning inward.”

The President has indeed firmly focused on job creation, and this to win back the heart of the Americans who could think that “some of the billions spent in Kabul could be used to create jobs at home”, as noticed by Roger Cohen.

The United States tempted by isolationism, it is also the opinion of Pierre Rousselin from Le Figaro (Obama tenté par le repli, blog du Figaro 29/1/2010) and Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment (Response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address,Carnegie website, 28/1/2010). The first remark that « The ultimate goal of both military operations outside the United States seems increasingly be foremost …to bring the troops home, from Iraq in a short term, in a medium term from Afghanistan “. The second notes that Iraq and Afghanistan are mentioned only in terms of disengagement rather than commitment, what he ultimately finds « worrying« .

What would be the answer to « less America » in international politics? The Roger Cohen’s answer is the emergence of China as the unique global superpower. Our answer remains a wishful thinking but would be « more Europe ». Of course, the EU does not have any foreign policy tools that enable it to equal its transatlantic neighbor, even the powerful China, but it has now new structures that have yet to demonstrate their scope and it has also real place to take, especially in the Middle East.


Nathalie Janne d’Othée