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A Disappointing Year With Obama

Posted on Nov 10, 2009
White House / Pete Souza

By William Pfaff

Who would have thought a year ago that most of the issues of conflict in America’s foreign relations would be made worse during the first year following Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president?

Even those disputes or differences that were appeased or quiet a year ago are now worse. On Iraq, the new president has faithfully followed the policy of George W. Bush, and now Iraq threatens breakdown.

Obama ran on a promise to fight the “right war” in Afghanistan. This policy rests upon the monumental assumption that victory can be found in a military campaign meant to alter the character of Central Asian political and religious society so as to remake it in the American image—what Condoleezza Rice defined a year ago as the Bush administration’s policy, and what is now apparently the Obama policy.

In the time-honored bureaucratic fashion, the president’s military advisers have offered him three troop options—one impossibly high, one suicidally small, and one, the one they actually want, in between, and “just right.”(In poker games, this is known as “forcing” the card onto the patsy.) The troops are already on the move. It will be some time before we see them again.

Put aside, for a moment, the military disaster that is now in the course of manufacture in the “Af-Pak” theater of unwinnable wars.

Look at the president’s other policy problems. The Korean affair continues, as we have just seen. There are tensions foreseeable in his visit to a new Japanese government at the end of this week. The old security conventions and connivances of past Japanese Liberal Democrat governments will be questioned.

Japan’s new government’s geopolitical view of East Asian security is not the passive and compliant one displayed for nearly 60 years by Liberal Democrat politicians who did as Washington suggested. In question today is the legal status under which 47,000 U.S. troops and a series of bases have quasi-permanently occupied the archipelago since 1945. Japanese naval forces were limited in number and mission, despite China’s rising military power.

China is developing a blue-water navy to support territorial claims in the region, while experiencing serious trade tensions with the U.S. On Nov. 5, the U.S. imposed 99 percent anti-dumping taxes on certain Chinese steel exports. Then there is the question of the American trade deficit with China, which suits the U.S. but not China, and the troublesome shadowing of the dollar by the Chinese renminbi.

In Latin America, the Obama people have already made trouble, demanding and getting a sizable new air base agreement in Colombia, whose significance, as the U.S. Air Force itself says, will be strategic. (Presumably to counter the “menace” of Russian ships off Venezuela.) Washington’s ambiguous conduct with respect to the Honduras military coup did not contribute to good pan-American relations.

The president’s winning personality, his appeals for mutual understanding and his promotion of negotiations over threats have all created good will for him and for the United States. But every active step he has taken on the large issues of the Middle East and Central Asia has angered, alienated or devastatingly disappointed those internationally and in the United States who expected the most from him.

He began his term with a program for finding the long-sought Arab-Israeli solution. To disappointment-hardened observers of the 40-year (and continuing) shipwreck of Palestinian-Israeli relations, the Obama plan seemed to err on the side of optimism, but if seriously applied conceivably could work.

The international auspices were favorable. So was the domestic American situation: The stranglehold on U.S. Jewish opinion held until now by the settler lobby and the Likud-dominated American Israel Public Affairs Committee seemed weakened. Liberal Jewish voters—the vast majority—were sympathetic to change; the liberal J Street lobby had been formed.

The new president had a plan for mutual concessions: application of the long-promised (“roadmap”) freeze on Israeli settlement construction on Palestine land, and a fresh Palestine start on security negotiations.

The plan proved to be a bad joke. Israel defied Obama. The president, after preliminary talk more forceful than ever before heard, peremptorily capitulated, accepting Israeli terms. The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, then announced he won’t run for a second term in upcoming elections, the logical consequence of which is that the Palestinian people will be left a people under total military occupation, the Israel government responsible for their condition, their livelihoods, their well being, their fate.

Some think this will inspire the Israeli people to invite the Palestinians to become voting citizens. Some think it could inspire Israel to annex all of Palestine and force all of its present Arab occupants out of Palestine, over the borders into Egypt or Jordan.

There may be possibilities between these extremes. One hopes President Obama will think of something.

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at

© 2009 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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thecrow's avatar

By thecrow, November 11, 2009 at 9:27 am Link to this comment

“Who would have thought a year ago that most of the issues of conflict in America’s foreign relations would be made worse during the first year following Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president?”

Anyone paying attention:

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By Hulk2008, November 11, 2009 at 9:05 am Link to this comment

Gag !!!!
Anybody here who actually thought changing one officeholder would somehow bring nirvana must be smoking a special brand of something !!!

A nation rises or falls on the backs and minds of the millions who inhabit it - it takes TIME and EFFORT from everybody.  Every effort to change ANYthing since January 20 has been met with total resistance.  Every meager “improvement” has been bought and paid for repeatedly with the monetary grease that Washington’s machine requires.  Political change is, at best, a gut-wrenching ground game - 3 yards in a cloud of dust, with required payoffs to the referees along the way. The country never moves forward an inch unless there’s been a mile of cash stashed away in the pockets of the wealthy.  e.g. Health care for the next 5 years could have been paid for with just the 40% increase in Wall Street bonuses being handed out. 

  Raise your hand if you honestly believe real change could occur in the last 295 days.
  OK ..... now go back to your cell at the asylum.

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By NYCartist, November 11, 2009 at 8:41 am Link to this comment

I thought I hit the right button, sigh.
Several people thought Obama would do as he has been:
Paul Street - see recent summary of Obama’s first
  year on Znet.

Bruce A. Dixon and Glen Ford on Black Agenda Report  Archives are user
  friendly.  Margaret Kimblerly blogs also, same site.

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By NYCartist, November 11, 2009 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

To answer the author’s question: Paul Street, historian and Black Agenda Report have been telling us for a long time.  I voted for Obama, but won’t do so again.

Paul Street has a good evaluation of Obama’s first year on Znet.  A week or two ago. As I get older, I am moving more left. Barely a Dem. - barely.

Black Agenda Report columnists: Glen Ford, Bruce A. Dixon(managing editor) and Margaret Kimberly have been evaluating Obama for years.  (I’m older but only online 2 years.)  New articles appear on Wednesdays and the archives are easy to use.

David Swanson and also have been covering Obama.

I do not have to (and don’t) agree with everything in any of the above sites, but much of it is GREAT.  As Howard Zinn says, you can have a point of view (vs alleged “balanced” “take no side”) in writing, just have facts to back up your point of view.

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By JohnMcD, November 11, 2009 at 8:10 am Link to this comment

I try to stay skeptical, but I feel like a bit of a sucker.  Obama’s good words are mostly just that - words.  His actions and policies imply something totally different, a deference to established financial interests not too unlike what we’ve come to expect after eight years of Bush. 

A lotta people wanted a new FDR, but I’m increasingly reminded of Hoover’s half-hearted attempts at reform and the inevitable momentum of an economy stuck in a downward spiral. 

Where are the jobs?  Where’s the protection & consideration for those of us who can’t afford to hire lobbyists? 

Well, its not like the outrage and dissatisfation will lead us anywhere.  They got that one covered too - unless you want to vote for Palin or some equal crazy on the other side.

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By joedee1969, November 11, 2009 at 6:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It is a disappointing year because there is a war inside The Democrat Party and one side won:

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By Trailing Begonia, November 11, 2009 at 6:14 am Link to this comment

Only those who had expectations are disappointed.  Those of us who realized that he was just another corporate appointee or the same donkey with a different saddle are not dissapointed.  We knew what to expect and…by galee, we got it!

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By dihey, November 11, 2009 at 5:41 am Link to this comment

He also believes that he has a direct dial line to God.

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By C.Curtis.Dillon, November 11, 2009 at 3:41 am Link to this comment

We were led to believe that Obama was the next FDR or Lincoln but I’m inclined to think his personality is not up to the task.  These men led with passion and understood that they needed to put their personal ambition aside to solve the major problems they faced.  Obama is not that kind of man.  He believes too much in compromise ... even to his detriment.  He is so concerned that someone might not like him or respect him that he goes out of his way to accommodate.  And yet, this very act of rolling over is what makes him weak.  Sometimes you have to stand up and get angry.  Sometimes you have to threaten a congressmen with retribution if he doesn’t toe the line.  Sometimes you have to have a real fire in your belly (not the rhetorical fire Obama occasionally displays) and a drive to get what is needed.  But Obama can’t do this because it isn’t in his character.

And, unfortunately, his cabinet selections and advisers are mostly mainstream Washington hacks who are more concerned with the pecking order on the hill than in getting the job done right.  He would have been better served to add some true mavericks who would not cater to the established crowd.

He may very well be Jimmy Carter II.

And, as DaveZx3 said, Obama is not alone.  There are so many lousy politicians in every country.  It is a true tragedy that we have no real leadership anywhere at a time when so much is going wrong.  So I too would advise we fasten the seat belts because the ride is about to get very rough.

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By johncp, November 11, 2009 at 3:32 am Link to this comment

“Who would have thought…”
I voted in symbolic frustration for McKinney.  I knew in my bones that Obama was a fake.  I took the measure of the man, and he failed the test, miserably.  I’m not all knowing politically, but the man seemed lightweight, shallow, far less impressive a speaker, than people believed, or wanted to believe, when he wasn’t scripted; a poseur.  It seemed painfully clear to me from the beginning, that people were projecting their desperate hopes, their hunger for change into him, and his handlers knew it.
Hillary seems to be someone nearly all on this list, love to hate, but on balance, it was clear she was the better candidate.
The hatred directed against this woman was exaggerated, even for those that felt they could reasonably account for it.  Media had it out for Hillary, but primarily for her husband, and attacked him, and her, with their ultra-conservative fury.  The American voter, in spite of his pretended scepticism of media, still soak up this ill will directed by media at the Clintons.  It’s as if we give media a presumption of balance and fairness, when our better judgment, if we followed it, tells us how ludicrous the notion is.

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By john crandell, November 10, 2009 at 11:58 pm Link to this comment

Pfaff’s very first sentence is so devastating and so truthfull.

I doubt that any other major journo now at work could be more precise. That is - excepting Bill Moyers and/or Daniel Schorr. But I imagine that the latter, with his “matchless sense of history” and the former, with his laser-like acuity, (one or the other or even both) would not dare venture such words as has Pfaff.

Perhaps O. is all too stuck on Lincoln, is obsessed with the eloquent phrase. And I fear that he hasn’t a single ounce or feeling or capacity for visceral leadership. What he does exhibit though is an unbounded predeliction for savage dispassion and in that, he is the WRONG person for this particular time in history and as well, seems to be inadvertantly serving out Jimmy Carter’s second term.

Only one question remains: will Biden prove to become this era’s Hubert Humphrey? If Joe were to pack up his belongings and move over to the EOB, well - things could really get interesting!

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By keepyourheaddown, November 10, 2009 at 11:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama, just another loser politician…

it’s already over for america, everybody loses…

the people with the money think they will be okay… they won’t!

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By Xntrk, November 10, 2009 at 10:48 pm Link to this comment

>>There may be possibilities between these extremes. One hopes President Obama will think of something.<<

Well, Obama promised us HOPE… Foolish as we are, we were unable to understand that relying on that was just like calling Clinton ‘The man from Hope…’ as if that too meant something.

In a strange way, global warming and peak oil may be on our side. This whole debacle seems to spiraling out of the control. Responding to crisis on a Global Scale, of pandemics and droughts and floods may cost more time, energy, and effort, than these incompetents planned on.

Maybe that is all the hope we have. Choose your poison, and batten the hatches. Things will get much worse, I’m afraid, before they get better.

And some people call me an optimist!

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By DaveZx3, November 10, 2009 at 10:24 pm Link to this comment

I was not an Obama fan, but was initially encouraged by his intelligence and presidential demeanor.  I wished him well, for the sake of all of us.

But the man has way too much on his plate, and as KDelphi said, he was obliged, I think, to bring in some of the loons that supported him or were Dem big shots.  He has a lot of people around him who are major distractions, imcompetent or both. 

Also, the man is faced with being the first non-white president, a chore which is in itself monumental.  (Think of Jackie Robinson, the first black major leaguer, what he went through)  The first thing you have to prove is that you can play the game the white mans way at least as good as the white man plays it.  If you can establish that, then you can go on to be yourself, maybe. 

On top of that, the whole world is screwed up completely.  In every way, every nation and every significant large group has severe leadership problems.  The most brilliant man in the world cannot convince absolute fools to stop being absolute fools.  Corrupt and ignorant leadership is everywhere.  It is like walking into a cage of monkeys and trying to convince them to stop being monkeys.  Ain’t gonna happen. 

So, I am willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt.  His presidency will not be effective, but he, himself is not a bad president.  His politics are bad, his advisors are bad, and the problems he faces are beyond the scope of a man.

We can only sit back, fasten our seat belts and ride out the turbulence.

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By gauss, November 10, 2009 at 8:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

do I hear the kids yelling… “fix it, fix it, fix it!!  Why haven’t you fixed it!!”  ?

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By KDelphi, November 10, 2009 at 8:50 pm Link to this comment

I am not “disappointed”..I have to say, I am not certain that Obaam is making any of the decisons. And he has appointed such dickheads in all postions, we are screwed.

I have to say that he didnt create the mess, but, he is making it worse.

My gawd, Geithner and Summers and Clinton and on and on. What could people possibly expect?

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By Folktruther, November 10, 2009 at 7:47 pm Link to this comment

Mary Ann, Obama’s duplicity is everywhere you look.  He is simply a bookend to Bush, hauling the Dem party to support Bushite policies. 

  There was a recent article in the Britsh magizine, The Economist, which analyzed the Hunduras agreement negotiated by the US rep there.  It was a fraud to begin with, allowing a loophole to avoid placing Selaya back in office.  He is currently staging political theater to expand the Afpak war.  He is conference for the Israeli war leader Natanyahu to legitimate the Israeli settlements.  the house version of the recent medical bill essentially prohibits money for abortions.  By DEMS.

Obama is not disappointing: he is as big a disaster as Bush.

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By thebeerdoctor, November 10, 2009 at 7:45 pm Link to this comment

Gore Vidal has said he feels sorry for President Obama. As a brilliant media candidate who could skillfully use soaring rhetoric to create an illusion of compassionate wisdom that represented ‘change you could believe in”, but in reality, the new President has just two parts to his agenda: 1.: To maintain the established order by initiating some cosmetic remodeling in policy that will appear to be (but quite falsely) significant, if not downright monumental. 2.: To be re-elected and to keep the available corporate campaign money away from migrating into GOP coffers (this was his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel’s main obsession, when it came to the Affordable Health Care Act).
Unrepentant supporters of President Obama try their very best to see the Chief Executive in the best light possible. They will claim that the President is seeking peace, even while he has ordered more robot drone attacks in one year for the AfPak War, than did George W. Bush in the three years previous. They will also claim that he is bringing the Iraq war to a close… which you also might accept if you believe sending an additional forty thousand troops to Afghanistan, is a component of that “draw down”. And pay no attention to the fact that President Obama approved and signed into law, the largest spending on the military in the history of the world.
But there is nothing all that devious about this, its just that President Obama has faith in corporate solutions to world problems. Do you think it troubles him that the massive amounts of money spent, say the $4 billion a month in Afghanistan, is mostly wasteful and useless?
The President who inherited a corrupt system of private profit from public expenditure, seems incapable of being the kind of champion for the common people required to be POTUS at this moment in history. That would entail the wrath and scorn from those profitably entrenched in this elite layout, whom President Obama seems to hold in such reverential awe. Why else does he allow Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, etc,.to have so much money and access? Why else did he appoint Roger Beachy to be the director of the U.S. National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a career paid scientist of the Monsanto corporation?
In foreign affairs, President Obama’s complete capitulation to the Israel/AIPAC policies reveal to what extent he is beholden to their continuing contributions. And make no mistake, the rest of the world hears what he says, but then observes what he actually does… and it is not a very promising picture.

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By Mary Ann McNeely, November 10, 2009 at 7:26 pm Link to this comment

A Disappointing Year With Obama

You need another, more appropriate, adjective, such as: treacherous, duplicitous, dishonorable, chickenshit, cowardly, etc.  There are obviously many. many others in this vein.

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By gerard, November 10, 2009 at 6:20 pm Link to this comment

“Who would have thought ...?” you ask.  Well, I for one.  The problems accumulated through years of “American exceptionalist” behavior are reaping a whirlwind, and Obama, mistakenly, is being blamed because he can’t make it all go away in a year. There are so many spoiled, merciless people in this country of corporate greed, military aggression, and substandard public information that people who should know better are ready to forestall any humanistic changes and blame “the government” for the problems they have allowed these institutions to create. Pres. Obama is just a convenient focus for gripes.

What would heal the country?  Corporations taking responsibility for the economic crash and for not allowing it to happen again, and for closing the vast gap between rich and poor.  The military admitting that Iraq and Afghanistan were both misadventures, and refusing to spend any more lives and treasure on “winning”—whatever that means to them.  Media coming to the rescue with factual, researched, unpoliticized information on what brought us where we are, and suggestions for improvement, media less interested in being bossed around by government and corporate advertsing.  Big order!  But because it’s all been done wrongly it can be done right. Oh for a rebirth of political wisdom and a breath of fresh air!

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By Shift, November 10, 2009 at 5:57 pm Link to this comment

Obama appears to be in league with those Americans who support globalism and world domination.  There is no genocide too large to stop these people.  Millions and perhaps billions will be killed in America’s attempt at world domination.  World War III will be launched in an effort to achieve domination.  The pieces are being put into place both domestically and in foreign Nations. As the American economy deteriorates the war will be launched.  Nuclear war and massive destruction will be viewed as a necessary price for success.

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By anon84, November 10, 2009 at 5:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Look, he’s just the figurehead for the banksters and the MIC (which includes our wealthy, corrupt & evil officer corps).

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