Why did non-Americans love Barack Obama

Barack Obama's term in officeA contradicting legacy

Newly elected American presidents are always greeted with hope and confidence in the United States. In the American political system, a new presidency is both a confirmation of the 240-year-old model of democracy and a promise of renewal for a better future. But rarely has an American president been expected and overloaded with so many hopes at the beginning of his term of office as Barack Hussein Obama, 44th President of the USA. His style, his auspicious rhetoric and the promise to reconcile the politically divided American people with themselves again appealed to people across generations and parties - not only in the USA.

"Americans send a message to the world that Americans have never been just a collection of individuals or a collections of red states and blue states, we are and always will be the United States of America!"

The political climate is poisoned

America is more than a collection of Republican and Democratic states, said Obama on election night in 2008. America is the United States of America. He wanted to be a political pontiff, a president to build bridges. At the end of his tenure, however, the US is more divided than ever. The political climate is poisoned. Compromises are considered treason by many. The Congress is incapable of acting as a political institution.

The tea party icon Sarah Palin together with the US presidential candidate Donald Trump during an election campaign appearance in Iowa. (dpa / ap / Mary Altaffer)

Barack Obama bears only a very small part of the responsibility for this. But the contrast between the almost messianic expectations of him and the banal political reality at the end of his term in office is striking. Political scientist Martin Thunert of the Heidelberg Center for American Studies, who wrote a book about the Obama presidency, explains the high expectations in part by the frustration of the Bush years.

"Well, he won the election against John McCain because there was an enormous mood of change in the US in 2008 after the eight years of Bush. The Democrats had already won Congress like a landslide in 2006. And the Republicans had also put up a candidate with McCain who, on the one hand, has a high level of competence in security and foreign policy, but who was completely unsuitable for the economic and financial crisis that was the leitmotif for this election. "

Saved the US economy with billions

The young president had to go through the fire of the biggest economic and financial crisis in the US since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It burned on all political and economic fronts. And the expectations of the young president were high - too high, thinks the former coordinator for German-American relations in the Federal Foreign Office, Karsten Voigt.

"I was in favor of his choice and at the same time I warned against too high expectations in Germany. It went so far that some people said that I was anti-American, but the background was actually that I was sure that people couldn't judge how far Congress would limit his ability to act. And that, therefore, the exaggerated expectations would subsequently lead to exaggerated disappointments. "

Obama saved the US auto industry with billions of dollars. (Arno Burgi)

Obama pushed a nearly $ 800 billion stimulus package through Congress to keep the American economy from sliding from recession into depression. The American automobile companies General Motors and Chrysler were saved from bankruptcy with $ 80 billion in emergency loans. The conditions were strict: the management was forced to resign, the automobile companies had to give an account of how the state funds were used.

The middle class had to pay for the consequences

At the same time, homebuyers could apply for government aid if they got into credit problems. Nevertheless, several million houses had to be foreclosed. Large parts of the American middle class were on the verge of panic: Buying a house is not only part of the American dream of self-employment and independence, but also a very pragmatic part of retirement provision.

The unemployment rate has long since recovered and is below five percent, and growth is steady at a good two percent. But the pure numbers look better than the perceived reality. While the middle class in particular had to pay for the consequences of gambling on the real estate and credit markets, banks and the automotive industry were saved by the state. This discrepancy found its political expression in the Tea Party movement. On the left spectrum, the Occupy Wall Street movement formed, the offshoots of which would fuel Bernie Sanders' election campaign five years later.

One health insurance for all Americans

Obama's most important domestic policy plan was health insurance for all Americans. There were angry protests by Republicans against the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Obama said shortly after the law came into force, they were afraid that Obamacare would be a success. In the 2012 election campaign, Obama defended his reforms in every speech:

"One of the biggest newspapers in the country recently published an editorial - I thought it was pretty good - they said: the Republicans in Congress are poisoning Obamacare, they trying to claim it's sick ..." (Laughter)

A cast on the arm with the inscription: "I love Obamacare". But not everyone in the US sees it that way. (AFP)

Republicans poisoned the atmosphere with their attacks on health care reform, Obama said. Middle-class families in particular should benefit from it. Tax subsidies help families pay health insurance contributions. In addition, Obamacare establishes minimum standards for health insurance. For Martin Thunert a clear socio-political step forward.

"Obama correctly assessed the political balance of power in Congress. He absolutely wanted a reform that would remove two things above all: reducing the number of uninsured people, ie introducing something like compulsory individual insurance, which he partially or largely succeeded in doing . And he wanted to prevent people with previous illnesses from losing their policies or not being accepted at all. "

Tea Party MPs block Congress

16 million Americans now have health insurance that was previously uninsured. And nearly 95 percent of all Americans have health insurance today - a record high.

For the Republicans and the Tea Party, however, the opposition to Obamacare has become a political creed. In 2010, the issue went a long way towards tipping the House majority in the midterm elections in favor of the Republicans. Getting rid of Obamacare became a political obsession for Republicans. The increasingly radical Tea Party MPs brought the issue against any parliamentary compromise. Budgets were no longer passed, only existing spending laws were extended. In 2013, the radical wing of the Republicans even caused a so-called "government shutdown" for a short time, an extensive cessation of government activities. The Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz tried with a filibuster, a speech with no speaking time limit, to delay the vote on an extension of the budget as long as possible.

"I love this story so I am going to read it to you. That Sam I am, that Sam I am. Do you like green eggs and ham…"

Cruz read for hours, including from a children's book - but none of this was harmless. A so-called government shutdown was the result, for a short time the world power was only able to maintain its state functions in rudimentary form.

No progress on gun laws

A prosperous relationship with the Republicans was becoming more and more distant. One of the areas in which no compromise seems possible is the gun laws. Even after the rampage in a school in Newtown in December 2012 with 28 dead, there was no majority for stronger gun control laws. On the contrary, the lobby organization National Rifle Association continues to stylize unhindered access to weapons into a metaphor of freedom. The President's frustration is clear to see.

"The US has spent more than a trillion dollars," Obama said after another shooting, "to protect the country from terrorists. But Congress is even preventing data from being collected on how to reduce the number of gun victims. How." can that only be? "

61 arrests, more than a hundred shots - the result of the night after the jury's decision in Ferguson. (AFP - Jewel Samad)

Racial relations were not always good either. Cases made headlines in which white police officers shot black citizens. In the age of cell phone videos, more and more such cases are coming to light and sometimes leading to angry reactions from the black population, for example in Ferguson, Missouri.

"Burn this bitch down ..."

"Burn this bitch down", loosely translated: "Burn this damn town down," shouted Michael Brown's stepfather, after he learned that the alleged perpetrator should not be charged. Such incidents increased, with Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder intervening more and more often. Not an easy problem, especially for a black president, says Martin Thunert.

Frustration among young black teenagers

"The other thing is that there is a frustration that Obama is showing that a black man can achieve anything in America, including the presidency. But the economic crisis has of course also hit the black community particularly hard. And they are not unemployed decreased as much as in the general population. And that triggers a lot of frustration, especially among young black adolescents. "

The president can intervene against discrimination in the judiciary and legal system, but Obama was only able to change the social and educational situation of black citizens to a limited extent - because that can only be done in cooperation with Congress.

Obama not only had to contend with domestic political crises. He started with the intention of fundamentally turning US foreign policy upside down. An end to the warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan Iraq, an end to global American interventionism, an end to the image-damaging Guantanamo. The price for maintaining the global order, which the USA built up significantly after the Second World War, was - and is - too high for many Americans. A new relationship with old opponents should be created.

The hoped-for renewal of relations with Russia did not materialize. Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Obama on 5.9.2016 in Hangzhou. (ALEXEI DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK POOL / DPA)

"I firmly believe that the interests of the US are best served with a cooperative, non-confrontational relationship with Russia. That is why I am determined to put the relationship with Russia on a new basis," said Obama at a summit meeting with the then Russian President Medvedev. With the new relationship with Russia, that seemed to work out at first. But the much-touted "reset", the restart of US-Russian relations, turned out to be a short circuit when Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency of Russia. As recent developments in Ukraine and Syria show, Russia is more concerned with restoring its role as a major power than with improving relations with the United States. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that Obama's foreign policy is perceived by friends and enemies of the USA as a permanent mode of withdrawal.

Obama made the worst foreign policy mistake in Syria. The use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime would change its foreign policy calculations, said Obama. The so-called red line has been drawn. But when Assad is shown the use of chemical weapons, Obama does - nothing. A severe loss of international credibility, as many foreign policy experts judge. Putin, whose sole goal is to maintain the Assad regime, took advantage of the resulting power vacuum. One year after Obama's withdrawal from Syria, Putin's forces invade and annex Crimea. One could have something to do with the other, speculates Karsten Voigt.

"Some will want Obama back"

"It cannot be ruled out that authoritarian rulers will be influenced in their risk calculation if they suspect that the USA will not really get involved militarily. I do not consider that impossible. But it is also something where they can miscalculate. If that USA have made an experience that their non-engagement is abused by others for goals that the Americans perceive as directed against them, then there always comes a point where the Americans then get involved relatively massively. And so I believe that a I believe that after the elections, if Trump is not elected, but Hillary Clinton is elected, the United States will again be more determined and more risk-conscious in both the Middle East and Russia wishing Obama back. "

Hillary Clinton is currently having a serious campaign problem because of her pneumonia. Should she nevertheless be elected as Obama's successor, it is expected that she will pursue a more robust foreign policy course than her predecessor. But it too will have to take into account the intervention fatigue of the American population. For Europeans this means that in the medium term they should prepare for a greater degree of foreign and security policy action.

Started the NSA affair: Edward Snowden. (picture alliance / dpa / Wikileaks)

The NSA affair had a big echo in Germany, but not much of it remained in the USA, says Martin Thunert. "In the US you are relatively painless when it comes to wiretapping people outside the US. You are actually grateful for any information you can get. There was a certain uproar when it came out that the NSA was also active domestically And a lot has been done against it, but this moral indignation about wiretapping citizens of friendly countries has had little resonance in the USA, in Great Britain and even in France. "

The editor of Die Zeit and professor for international relations at Stanford University, Josef Joffe, recently called Obama's foreign policy "dreamy", for him Obama's presidency does not make any sense of foreign policy. Joffe recently wrote in "Die Zeit":

America needs allies

"An answer can be found in the magazine 'The Atlantic', where the reporter Jeffrey Goldberg, after a series of interviews, sums up the" Obama doctrine ": America is on the right side of history, according to Obama." Obama believes ", so Goldberg puts it back, "that history takes sides. America's adversaries have taken the wrong side - where tribal struggles, fundamentalism, sectarianism, and militarism reign. All of them have failed to understand that history is tending towards Obama. "So why great power or equilibrium politics? Let Russia, China and Iran march on their wrong path to ruin. America can sit back, because history will fix it, like Hegel and Marx fooled us into thinking that. This is not statecraft, but a religion in which history replaces God. "

Obama's understanding of history is strikingly similar to that of his conservative opponents: America as the city on the hill, the new Jerusalem. But the president must have had doubts at some point. Otherwise he would not have sent American special troops, trainers and aircraft to combat ISIS in the Middle East. Karsten Voigt interprets Obama's foreign policy more prosaically: as an adjustment. The United States aligned its international role with American capabilities. America therefore needs allies.

The world is no better without America as a regulatory power

"And that also means that they have to take their interests and viewpoints into account. And if you don't want to take over yourself - and the American people are of the opinion that you shouldn't get too involved - then it is better that you concentrates on a few points, and these few points will require so much effort in the next few years in the Middle East, towards China, towards Russia, and so much concentration, including intellectual discipline, that I am not talking about a US withdrawal would."

Perhaps Obama's legacy is more contradictory than both his admirers and critics would like to see. Obama, a president who talked a lot about peace and brought many American troops home. Obama, who waged a drone war against Al Qaeda and who again sent American troops to Iraq and Syria.And a president who learned in the course of his presidency that the world is no better world without America as a regulatory power.