Is Charles Krauthammer ever right?

United States

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

To person

Born 1960, member of the executive board of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, previously for six years a correspondent for "Die Zeit" in Washington. Here he gives his personal opinion.
Email: [email protected]

A year after taking office, Barack Obama has landed in the lows of politics. However, under any realistic standard it shows that it has by no means failed.


A year after taking office, the American President Barack Obama has landed in the lows of politics. The modern messiah has turned into an almost normal politician within months. He no longer recites epistles from The Promise Mountain, and when he does, the audience is increasingly skeptical in admiration. Obama has not lost his charisma, but demanding a policy change is something different from pushing through. At the beginning of his term in office he seemed inviolable, a human hope that would lead the USA and the entire planet into a new golden age at the moment of crisis. Skeptics looked like bad-humored hecklers. But in the meantime the choir of critics has found a score. Your song turns into a catchy tune. You are singing about a hyperactive president who touches a thousand things and does not finish anything. Who brings in overly complex and hellishly expensive bills and wonders when they get stuck in the American Parliament. Who spreads visions of global cooperation and has to watch his appeals fade away. Simon Serfaty of the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies sums up the mood most aptly: "The memories of failed presidencies are combined with growing concern about the incumbent."

But this criticism is itself an expression of the zeitgeist, a nagging uncertainty about the future role of America and all Western societies in a world that has to be re-measured. In such phases the leader of the free world likes to become a projection screen for hopes and disappointments. Especially when it was he who demanded and announced the new beginning. But even without the expectations that he has drawn and which now seem like self-inflicted wounds, every resident of the White House would have to groan under the weight of the agenda that his predecessor George W. Bush left him with. It is therefore advisable to take a sober look at what an American president can achieve and what a year allows. Indeed, under any realistic standard it shows that Obama has by no means failed. Certainly, a few disappointments are to be noted, first mistakes can be seen. But just as success mixes with the expectation of breakthroughs. In view of the variety of tasks and projects, the three monumental achievements of the first year easily get out of sight: Firstly, under Obama's leadership, the reaction of the major countries of the world to the financial crisis was coordinated, a huge economic stimulus package was passed and with it the plunge into a global economic catastrophe prevented and the reorganization of the financial supervision initiated. Second, Obama has put together a package of social and economic reforms designed to make his country fit for the future. And third, he redefined America's role in the world. What initially seemed like an anti-Bush agenda is evolving into a comprehensive realignment of American foreign policy. One may - depending on one's political home - criticize access or goals. A lack of strategic clarity would be the last thing that this president could be accused of.