Obama at the Crossroads:
The Rise and Fall of the United States
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 22, 2013
Summary: The U.S. Presidential Inauguration a coronation of the world's most powerful individual. But this position is not an easy one to fill. President Obama knows the next four years will be strewn with obstacles. He knows this because he has filled this position for the past four years. As an old friend of his put it, he is more confident than he was four years ago. But he is also more isolated than he was four years ago, and he is black and blue all over.
Full text below:
The U.S. Presidential Inauguration a coronation of the world's most powerful individual. But this position is not an easy one to fill. President Obama knows the next four years will be strewn with obstacles. He knows this because he has filled this position for the past four years. As an old friend of his put it, he is more confident than he was four years ago. But he is also more isolated than he was four years ago, and he is black and blue all over.
Only 16 presidents in the history of the United States have ever won a second term. The voters have given him a tremendous vote of confidence. But they have also presented him with an enormous challenge. This is especially true for Obama. He is America's first black president. He made history. His first Inaugural Address, all about "hope and change," was especially inspiring.
He will be inaugurated yet again. But this time the luster is off his halo. No matter how eloquent Obama's second Inaugural Address might be, it will befall the same fate as those delivered by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. No one remembers their second Inaugural Addresses either. The number of people attending the inauguration has also fallen, from 1.8 million 500,000. As we can see, Obama fever has cooled substantially
When Obama steps down four years from now, he will leave behind a record of achievements. That is something Obama has been concerned about lately. He invited a number of historians to the White House for dinner, before his swearing in. He wants to know how future historians will judge him.
Like Taiwan, the United States is plagued by ruling vs. opposition party bickering. The problem is more serious than in the past. During Obama's first term, he boasted that he would end petty grievances. But the Republicans became increasingly extreme. They and Obama became increasingly polarized. During last year's election, Obama was severely criticized by his opponents. Following the election, he had no chance to heal. He forced the Republicans to make concessions on fiscal cliff policy. Now he is pushing for tougher gun control laws.
Republican hawks are ascendant. They are determined to limit the debt ceiling, as well as make spending cuts, in order to teach Obama a lesson. Some in the Democratic Party have also argued that Obama speech must not be a half-hearted appeal to solidarity. After all, the Democrats now have public support. They must underscore the differences between themselves and the opposition GOP. But most people think the inauguration should be an occasion for smoothing over partisan differences and consolidating a national consensus. The president is not the president of a political party. The president is the president of the entire nation. Obama's speech should reflect an atmosphere of solidarity.
This is what Taiwan lacks. Elections on Taiwan are perceived as instances of "winner takes all" and "the devil take the hindmost." As a result, the opposition party has no desire to attend the presidential inauguration. It also makes it difficult to heal the grudges from previous elections.
Obama is said to be studying his hero, Abraham Lincoln. One hundred and fifty years ago, during Lincoln's second term inauguration, the American Civil War raged. Lincoln spoke of binding the nation's wounds. Today, the United States faces challenges similar to those in the wake of the Civil War. The two sides remain at loggerheads. Only ruling and opposition party cooperation can enable to nation to cope.
The ruling and opposition parties must cooperate because the United States faces daunting challenges. The United States faces no immediate crisis. But the long-term crisis is unprecedented. America is wracked periodically by deficit battles between the ruling and opposition parties. This shows that Obama's governance has considerable room for improvement. The direct result is the decline in America's international reputation. Its allies fear that the United States' promises cannot be fulfilled. Its enemies search for weaknesses in its armor, at home and abroad. They are waiting for an opportunity to make their move. The challengers are testing America's bottom line.
There has never been a time like now. American power is on the wane. This is having a huge global impact. Prior to the 19th century, the United States was relatively isolated. It had no quarrels with other nations. But ever since the beginning of the 20th century, America has repeatedly challenged other nations the world over. The United States has behaved in an increasingly hawkish manner, leading to a century of global hegemony. Today, the United States must recognize that it is no longer is the sole global hegemon. Mainland China's economic strength will overtake the United States' in 2017. Europe and Japan are not what they used to be. Only America still commands deference. Obama does not want historians to record that he was the president who presided over the end of American hegemony.
But if Obama acts rashly, his term may well be characterized just that way. This is not because of his policies, but because of outside circumstances. Such developments are often beyond the control of the individual. For example, President George W. Bush's legacy will be all about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Obama's legacy will be determined by the following two circumstances.
The first is the situation in the Middle East. Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Israel is on the verge of striking out. The increasingly hawkish Israeli Government may take countermeasures. Obama may face war with Iran. This will not merely affect the global energy supply and America's economic recovery. It also risks nuclear war.
The second is the situation in East Asia. The Diaoyutai Islands sovereignty dispute between Japan and Mainland China is reminiscent of the dispute between Israel and the Muslim world. The United States is offering one-sided support to Japan. It is underestimating nationalism on Mainland China and Taiwan. This has forced Mainland China to put the United States on its enemies list. It also makes Taipei-Washington relations and cross-Strait relations highly volatile.
As an ally of the United States, we hope President Obama's second term is a success. But as a member of the international community, we cannot help worring about the next four years. The path is strewn with obstacles. How will Obama respond to domestic and foreign challenges and to his place in history? Only he can decide.
2013.01.22 03:05 am