Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Obama bad but lucky for US economy

The US seems to be entering one of its most promising phases

Published: Mar 12, 2015 06:37:42 AM IST
Updated: Mar 12, 2015 08:48:30 AM IST
Obama bad but lucky for US economy

There’s no such thing as justice in politics. Or so it would seem. Take the case of Barack Obama. By any standards he’s been a bad President—idle, muddled, contradictory and weak. His one major achievement, ObamaCare, is likely to prove costly and inefficient. He has neglected US defence and allowed Vladimir Putin to strut around the world stage almost unopposed. Obama has done nothing positive for the economy, and many of his decisions have been discouraging and obstructive to private enterprise.

Yet, as Obama enters the last quarter of his eight-year presidency, all the indicators show the US economy to be in the green, whereas Europe, except for Britain, is in the doldrums. Even China’s boom is slowing fast. US job creation is tremendous. Unemployment is down. Investment is high. Inflation is low. As things stand, the US seems to be entering one of its most promising phases.

Fracking, in which America leads the world, has completely transformed the energy market and will soon take the US from being a huge importer to a net exporter, ensuring cheap domestic fuel. All of America’s critics and enemies, especially Russia, Venezuela and Iran, have been badly hit by the collapse in oil prices. Venezuela, which had been subsidising opponents of the US all over Latin America, is close to starvation. Iran, which has defied the West’s economic sanctions to continue its efforts in making nuclear bombs, is likely to run out of funds this year. And Russia, once the world’s biggest exporter of oil and gas, is watching its economy collapse because of the energy market’s transformation.

Mr Obama has contributed absolutely nothing to these remarkable and welcome events. In fact, he’s even attempted to obstruct the fracking boom. Left to himself, Obama would probably have struck a deal with Putin and lifted the sanctions on Russia.

So as things stand, the President has been handed a sort of victory on a plate, as he’s bound to get credit for the improvement in the US’s fortunes.

Obama’s calamitous defeat in the last mid-term elections already seems a long time ago. It wasn’t overwhelming enough to prevent his vetoing any congressional move he finds insupportable. He now stands a fair chance of being able to whip up popular support for a White House policy of legislative obstruction. From being a person whom Democratic candidates wanted to keep away from their campaigns he’s become a President with a touch of luck, whose nod is worth having. Look for a rapprochement between Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton in 2015. In a few weeks the odds of a Grand Old Party victory in 2016 have changed to a close-run contest, with Mrs Clinton—if she can secure the Democratic nomination—well-placed.

Lead to take the lead
What are the Republicans to do? Hillary Clinton has a head start on anyone they put up. What they ought to do, given their domination of Congress, is take the lead in a worldwide campaign to fight Muslim fundamentalism, something Obama has conspicuously failed to do. Given the US’s enormous military capabilities, especially in air power, its efforts to contain ISIS have been feeble. Much of the actual fighting has been left to the Kurds, who have responded magnificently. But Obama has given them little encouragement. ISIS has flourished not because of its intrinsic qualities and appeal but because of the West’s policy vacuum.

People in Europe are frightened by the way in which the war against Islamic terrorism is being lost through lack of leadership. The only international figure who provides leadership in both word and deed is PM Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Increasingly, European Jews who are in a position to change their location—especially those in France—are moving to Israel, which is regarded not so much as safe as resolute. It has a sophisticated range of tactical nuclear weapons and is quite prepared to use them, if necessary. Of course, this wouldn’t be necessary if the US were doing its job. But a Republican Congress could provide a kind of leadership substitute. Nothing can entirely take the place of a strong and clear-sighted President in the White House, but in this needy and disturbed world, a determined combination of Republican senators and congressmen would be a hopeful sign.

Paul Johnson is an eminent British historian and author

(This story appears in the 20 March, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)