In assessing the situation as President Obama begins his second term one very important point must be made – unlike most parliamentary democracies there is no leader of the opposition. Strangely, this works to the disadvantage of Mr. Obama because there is no one he can zero in on except Congressional leaders who play Alphonse and Gaston – «after you Gaston …. Oh, no after you Alphonse». This, of course, makes it difficult to pin down just what senator or congressman speaks for the opposition on any given issue.
Last term presidents usually play it safe wanting to get out of the White House relatively unscathed, as Clinton did in spite of is amorous inclinations.
Another important point is that 1/3 of the Senate and all Members of the House of Representations are up for reelection in 2014.
At home and abroad the president faces a very tricky energy crisis. The energy situation is, as we law students used to say when we couldn’t answer the situation is in a state of flux.
A year ago, virtually no one had heard of «Fracking», a process where petroleum, mainly gas, is «mined» by sinking a horizontal shaft into shale rock sometimes a mile deep then a vertical shaft using chemically laced water to for forcing the entrapped gas to the surface, This has changed, possibly the world’s energy extraction and sales into a cocked hat. As an example, a few months ago I wrote «China to spend billions to secure liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Canada to writing last week that reports out of China indicate that she has 300 years of supply of shale gas. Moreover no one knows or seems to care about the environmental issues involved. Sat this writing, Mr. Obama is deciding whether of not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to American refineries.
Probably the president’s biggest problem is to bring the American monetary situation under control. He is supported by Republican politicians as long as the rich are exempted from tax increases and that the savings be fount by cutting back funding for less well off Americans. The president, unusual though it is so early in his term has gone on a speaking tour taking his case to the people. At the same time he is campaigning for stricter handgun regulations – a huge hot button item. The American Gun lobby is one of the most powerful in the country. Were the president simply trying to get out of the White House with his popularity such that huge fee speaking tours assured he would tip toe through the political minefields in his way. Obama seems to be quite the opposite and risks unpopularity in order to accomplish the challenges the country faces.
In assessing the president’s minefields one must remember his health care bill so popular with the poor and so unpopular with Republicans who represent the rich with the attitude that the poor get taken care of and if they want greater coverage they should take their shovels, stop whining and go to work.
Perhaps Mr. Obama’s biggest problem is what to do with the Middle East… Readers will perhaps remember my warnings that throwing out the bad guys nay well bring in even worse people. The President has seen what a hash the US has over Afghanistan and Iraq. Both these campaign were at one point hailed in America as glorious victories where just a little shows what appalling disasters they have been. The «Arab Spring» is beginning to look like the dead of winter given what has happened in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, is happening in Syria and will happen elsewhere with Saudi Arabia the main concern. If this situation only were only involved Arabs and other Islam countries in the region, the major powers could turn a blind eye to the local bloodshed. But there’s Israel, as much as any Arab country as an undisciplined country in the region. The deep hatred it generates one thing unites the bitterest of Islam enemies. One tends to forget that Israel has nuclear weapons alone, so far, in the region.
The major problem, Saudi Arabia, is terrifying. The immense Royal family and rich hangers-on will be tossed out. Civil war is inevitable and the takeover by Wahhabis makes Israel’s problems larger and much in focus. Moreover, if the US does become self sufficient in gas and oil the economic impact of this on Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region and the old saw, «desperate men do desperate things applies».
What can Mr. Obama do?
Alone, he has very few options. A rapprochement with Russia and China must be achieved especially with the former. The US squandered much potential cooperation with Russia by doing so little to her Russia after the USSR had collapsed. It’s time the two leaders, Messrs. Putin and Obama went to work establishing a relationship with a view to showing a common front bent on keeping the peace. With a large Muslim population within Russia and on its eastern borders, it has a huge stake in dampening the potential blood bath that could well ensue.
The situation in Syria is much more than good guys fighting bad guys; it is that but it’s also a proxy war between Sunni and Shia. It is the latter contest that worries China and Russia.
Then you get down to cases. Europeans caused the situation that now faces the world. When Churchill, anticipating World War One, switched the Royal Navy from coal to Oil the fat was in the fire. After the war the territories once part of the Turkish Empire were made into nations with little regard to what the religious and economic realities were. In short, Europeans including Russia and the US have no political capital in the region. If, as many expect, fracking seriously damages Middle East economies a bad situation will be made far worse.
The only real hope is action by the UN Security Council get on the same page which in turn requires the United States, China and Russia getting their act together.