Given Barrack Obama is now into the final 6 months of his Presidency, many reflections on the term of America’s first black President, will be made both now and in the forthcoming months and years ahead.
A claim commonly touted by Republicans is that under President Obama, the US is no longer ‘respected’.
Alternatively, Barrack Obama and his supporters can point to his ending of the past administration’s reckless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the signing of the Paris climate change agreement, as evidence of achievement and a more respectable position for America within the world. Moreover, this purported increase in international regard for the United States under Obama’s Presidency, has been reinforced by some surveys .
This vision was epitomized at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, in which Obama declared;”almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago when I took office”.
Clearly, an interesting debate is presented before us. Has President Obama and the United States truly received the global respect that was lacking in 2008, or have there been failures in this regard?
First it is important to both define this term and consider its connotations. According to vocabulary.com, to respect an entity or an individual is to ‘regard highly; think much of’. Furthermore, the definition of respect also includes ‘to respect one’s judgement’.
Thus, to respect someone’s judgement in the sphere of international relations, would certainly require global leaders and powers to listen, pay attention to and act upon the desires of the US President, given his position as Commander- in chief of the greatest military in human history.
But considering the actions of many world leaders and transnational groups, it is difficult to argue that due attention and consequently respect has been paid to the requests of President Obama, considering the immense military and nuclear capabilities at his disposal.
Take the relations with Russia for instance, as an example of Barrack Obama’s flimsy global authority. In 2009, after meeting with President Medvedev, Obama seeked a ‘new era’ of relations with Russia. Following this commitment to take a more ‘pragmatic, business- like approach’ to Russia, the new President abandoned the development of a new missile defence shield system designed to spread across Poland and the Czech Republic, in an attempt to ease West- East tensions.
However, these good intentions of the American President were hardly noticed by Vladimir Putin, who began his second term as Russian President in 2012. Despite US protest, Russia through its aiding of separatist rebels and its own military force, annexed the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014. Is this the type of action a nation would take if it truly respected American leadership, considering the pro- American government in Ukraine at the time?
Further, in 2015 and after nearly 5 years of failed US foreign policy in Syria which witnessed the creation, funding, and facilitating of the Islamic State, Putin formally announced that Russian military had been providing ‘serious’ training and logistical support to the Syrian army. This came despite previous demands that ‘Assad must go’ from the US President and yet, the consequences of Putin’s intervention have resulted in quite the opposite.
Russian disrespect for the United States has also reached the extent to which provocatory action is being undertaken. Footage earlier in this year showed the Russian Sukhoi Su- 24 aircraft flying a mere 30 metres above the USS Donald Cook in the Baltic Sea; a threatening predicament at the time for American sailors. And what was the White House response towards this act of aggravation? Deafening silence.
Even a neutral bystander could not argue that America has become ‘more respected’ by its ex- Cold War foe, as Obama’s wishes have been carelessly ignored. While no country with the might of the American nuclear arsenal could ever be reduced to becoming a non- consideration in global affairs, relations have even deteriorated even to the point that the President of the Russian Federation, feels emboldened enough to mock the American President and the supposed ‘leader of the free world’.
In response to hearing of the failures of American ambitions to train the Free Syrian army and the President’s subsequent cancelling of the $500 million Syrian rebel training program, Putin claimed; “It would have been better to give us $500 million. At least we would have used it more effectively from the point of view of fighting international terrorism”.
Under any circumstances, for the leader of a major geopolitical rival to deliver such a humiliating smack down of the President and his failed foreign policy, reveals a substantial lack of respect. George Bush might have damaged American reputation through hyper aggression and largely unilateral action, but a Presidency of weakness and feeble action has been equally if not further conducive to worsening global views of the United States, particularly in Russia.