UPDATE: Will you miss Obama? The outgoing US president claims that he delivered on his campaign promises of “hope” and “change” during his eight years in office. He believes that his administration helped stabilise the US economy, cutting unemployment to pre-2008 levels. In terms of foreign policy, the outgoing president points to agreements on climate change, a nuclear weapons deal with Iran, normalised relations with Cuba, and the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Critics, however, argue that US wages and economic growth have stagnated for the past 8 years. They point to numerous perceived foreign policy failings, including the rise of ISIS, the failure to establish credible “red lines” in Syria, and the chaos of post-revolutionary Libya. Meanwhile, North Korea’s nuclear programme continues to tick along, and Russia seems more concerned by the price of oil and gas than by the sanctions regime Obama helped put in place following the annexation of Crimea.
So, was the Obama administration a success? How do you think it will compare to the incoming administration of Donald Trump? And was Obama a good president from a European perspective? As ever, let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below!
ORIGINAL (13/07/2016): That’s (almost) all, folks! In November 2016, Americans will elect a new president to replace Barack Obama. After eight years, it will be time for historians to start pondering Obama’s legacy – from healthcare reforms, to detente with Iran and Cuba.
From a European perspective, it’s been something of a bumpy ride. It’s safe to say that the 2003 Iraq war had sorely tested transatlantic relations, and the European appetite for “Hope” and “Change” was enormous. Obamamania was at a fever pitch in Europe before Obama even assumed the mantle of president, with an estimated 200,000 people coming to hear him speak in Berlin during the 2008 election campaign.
However, stratospherically-high expectations inevitably gave way to disappointment. For his part, Obama seemed determined to de-emphasise America’s disproportionate focus on Europe (a relic of the Cold War), and expand US horizons to include the booming economies of Asia. He was to be America’s first ‘Pacific president’.
A series of crises, however, forced Obama to keep one eye on Europe at all times (usually installed on Angela Merkel’s iPhone). From the 2012 European debt crisis, to the Arab Spring and bombing campaign in Libya, to the Russian annexation of Crimea, there was always something going wrong in Europe or its neighbourhood. Amidst all this, US-Europe relations reached arguably their lowest point under Obama, thanks to the NSA spying scandal.
Ultimately, however, was Barack Obama a good US president from a European perspective? We had a comment from Andreea, who said he predicted Obama’s legacy would be seen as a broadly positive one in Europe. To get a reaction, we spoke to Keith Jacomine, Chair of the Democrats Abroad Austria. As a US citizen living in Europe, how would he rate Obama’s legacy on EU-US relations?
Well, I think President Obama has restored respect for the office of the US president abroad, and there have been many studies where President Obama’s popularity and respect have been judged throughout Europe and the world, and I think the majority of countries have shown that they have confidence in President Obama to do the right thing regarding world affairs. And I think he has instituted new policies and diplomacy, and he has changed the rhetoric of the American presidency in Europe and around the world, and I think his favourability ratings have gone up substantially because of it.
For another perspective, we also spoke to Renee Nielsen, Chair of the Republicans Abroad Netherlands. Would she be more critical? And did she see any key differences between the policies of Barack Obama and those of his predecessor, George W. Bush?
I would say that the policy under George W. Bush was to continue to have a strong relationship with Europe. Many European countries are NATO allies – we have the so-called ‘Special Relationship’ with the British, but all of our allies in Europe are very important. We have, for the most part, common interests and goals.
I do understand that the Iraq war caused strife between our two continents, and so in that context you can say that Barack Obama has had a stronger relationship with Europe in terms of public opinion. The actual policy differences are often more perceived than real, because some of them were the same: The rendition programme continued under Obama, and the drone programme was expanded under Obama.
So, the perception is that he’s been better for Europe, and the image of the United States has improved since Barrack Obama took office. But I would say that that has in part to do with the drum-beat of negativity surrounding the Iraq war under President Bush, and then the excitement for change. I think that, politically, especially in Western Europe, young people and the media have a more like-minded view with the Democrat Party than with the Republican Party, so – regardless of which president came in – as long as it was a Democrat it was going to improve relations between the Europe and the US.
Was Obama a good US president for Europe? Will Obama’s legacy be good for the EU-US relationship? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!