WASHINGTON - Since before taking
office, U.S. President Barack Obama has been no stranger to being in
the crosshairs of Republican pundits who have accused him of everything
from bring a "secret communist" to a tax-and-spend liberal who would
oversee huge expansions in the federal government.
But a growing voice of
criticism here in Washington is Democrats who feel the president has
failed to deliver on a large number of the campaign promises he made
during the run-up to the November election.
sentiment of disappointment and frustration with Obama's lack of
progress on his agenda - topped by his seeming inability to build a
consensus in his own party on healthcare reform, concern that he may be
in the process of committing the U.S. to an unwinnable war in
Afghanistan, and inaction on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
and repealing the ban on gays in the military - was put on striking
display on Saturday night when NBC's Saturday Night Live (SNL) led off
with a satirical skit portraying Obama listing his two major
accomplishments since taking office as "Jack and Squat".
skit came on the heels of last week's announcement that Chicago had
lost its bid for the 2016 Olympics for which the president and first
lady had made a last-minute trip to Copenhagen to personally lobby the
International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The IOC's decision to
award the games to Rio de Janeiro left the administration with the
political equivalent of egg on their faces.
Indeed the White
House's seeming inability to accomplish its major public initiatives
comes as a surprise to members of both parties as the Democrats have a
majority in both the House and Senate and - at least in theory - should
be in an ideal position to push an agenda of their choosing.
difficulties with building a coalition within his own party have come
largely as a result of conservative Democrats, known as "Blue Dogs",
whose election played a large part in building a Democratic majority in
the House. However, the lack of progress from a president who ran with
a campaign slogan of "Yes We Can" also casts serious doubts about the
credibility of his critics who claim he is a radical reformer with a
secret left-wing agenda.
"There are those on the right who are
angry. They think that I'm turning this great country into something
that resembles the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany, but that's just not
the case," said SNL actor Fred Armisen, as Obama. "When you look at my
record it's very clear what I've done so far and that is - nothing.
Nada. Almost one year and nothing to show for it."
list of accomplishments which SNL claims the president has failed to
make progress on is - as has been pointed out by a number of
fact-checking journalists - overstated, the number of initiatives on
the administration's agenda which are "in progress" but haven't yielded
discernible results is growing.
Frustration in Washington
foreign policy circles has centered on the willingness with which the
administration seems to be committing the U.S. to a long term
involvement in Afghanistan - a country with a long history of repelling
outside powers - and a failure to make measurable headway in bringing
about a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
policy realists have largely agreed that an outright withdrawal from
Afghanistan could be catastrophic and potentially destabilise an
already chaotic region, but concern has been growing about the
administration's "mission creep" in Afghanistan away from the original
objectives of combating terrorism and denying al Qaeda safe haven.
will be making a difficult decision - probably within the week - about
how to respond to General Stanley McChrystal's request for 30,000 to
40,000 additional troops to support U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
decision facing the president is politically loaded. A decision to
deploy the number of troops requested by McChrystal will garner attacks
from within his own party that he is committing U.S. soldiers to an
unwinnable war. And a decision to deploy a fewer number of troops than
requested will undoubtedly bring cries from Republicans and Democratic
Hawks accusing the president of not listening to his generals and
denying the military the manpower and resources required to be
victorious in Afghanistan.
Foreign policy heavyweight and noted
realist Brett Scowcroft, who served as national security adviser to
presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, sharply criticized the
administration's strategy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict Tuesday.
think it's time for different role; the focus on settlements on the
Israeli side and improving contacts on the Arab side, over-flight
rights and so on, is going for the capillaries at a time when that
cannot produce good results," he told The Washington Times. "I have
felt for some time that the two sides are unlikely in the foreseeable
future to be able on their own to make the compromises necessary."
advocates an alternative strategy in which the United States, Europe
and Russia would table a plan to create a Palestinian state.
of the increasing frustration from the left seems to be with the lack
of dramatic progress on policy initiatives from an administration that
is nine months into a four-year term.
The important initiatives
promised by Obama have included healthcare reform, closure of the
Guantanamo bay prison, introduction of a cap and trade system for
greenhouse gas emissions, and a repeal of the ban on gays in the
military - but it is too early to say that the president has outright
failed to deliver on these promises just yet.
has been held up by interparty and partisan wrangling, the closure of
Guantanamo Bay prison still seems likely but not on the timeframe
originally promised; cap and trade legislation has been introduced in
the Senate and there is hope that serious progress will be made on the
bill - though a vote this year is doubtful - before the December
Copenhagen Climate Conference; and a repeal of the ban on gays in the
military is being "pushed down the road a little bit", according to
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in March.
have been made with the removal of 1.75 billion dollars in funding to
order seven more F-22 "Raptor" jet fighters - a follow through on
Obama's commitment to end pork-barrel government contracts - and the
administration appears to be making progress in changing the nature of
the debate on environmental legislation.
The past two weeks have
seen a wave of large public utilities and well known U.S. companies
resign from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in opposition to the Chamber's
efforts to block cap and trade legislation.
While progress may
still be coming in a wide range of the president's policy initiatives,
the slowness of serious movement on healthcare reform and difficulties
in defining the U.S. mission in Afghanistan have become the chief
domestic and foreign policy tests in which the president's supporters
would like to see real progress.
The first year of the Obama
presidency is far from over and the president's poll numbers remain
high - an AP poll Tuesday found his job approval numbers at 56 percent
- but a growing sense of unease has started to spread amongst his
supporters that his persuasive and moving speeches might not be
followed by successful policy initiatives.
Obama and his
campaign managers were seen as running one of the most well-disciplined
and carefully planned presidential campaigns in modern U.S. political
Unfortunately the discipline and coordination displayed
by his near flawless campaign seem to have gone missing in recent
months as supporters are left concerned that the candidate they
supported - and who in many ways proved his capability as a bipartisan,
"big tent" builder - seems increasingly unwilling or unable to overcome
conflicts within his own party or pushback against a disorganized and
increasingly marginal Republican opposition.
portrayal of Barack Obama may have been over the top in its depiction
of him as a president who has accomplished nothing, but the skit spoke
to the fears of Obama supporters that the charismatic candidate they
helped elect might not be a cure-all for the increasingly difficult and
intertwined domestic and foreign policy challenges facing the U.S.
all of you frothing Glenn Beck supporters, put away those tricorner
hats and those Photoshop pictures of me as the Joker," said Armisen as
Obama, "because if I see any more of this hateful rhetoric, I'm going
to have to take drastic action... no, not really."