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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Altered Consciousness: Obama leads to decline in U.S. power

Published: February 18, 2011
Section: Opinions

Since President Obama took office, American influence and credibility abroad has declined, and the United Staates has, for better or worse, started to play a less dominant role in global affairs.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in Egypt. President Obama’s response to the crisis unfolding in this country was schizophrenic. Initially, his administration, underestimating the size and force of the protests against the regime in power, called Hosni Mubarak a good friend and ally of the United States. Then, they completely reversed policy, and demanded free elections and an immediate transition of power. Subsequently, they backtracked, and advocated for a more gradual cultivation of democratic institutions and civil society under the guidance of the Egyptian military.

Yet in the end words didn’t matter and American posturing made little to no difference in the course of events that pursued. Mubarak abdicated, the Egyptian people rejoiced, and only time will tell what the political and economic fate of the country will be. The signals that this course of events, as well as the Tunisian regime change, sends to our other allies in the region that depend on us, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Yemen, are not positive.

The demonstrable limits of American influence under President Obama, however, don’t end at Tahrir Square. Consider the case of Lebanon: The United States had allied itself with the moderate coalition of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Minutes after Hariri met with Obama at the White House, 11 ministers allied with Hezbollah withdrew from the cabinet. Subsequently, the Shiite terrorist group selected to be the new prime minister a puppet, Najib Mikati, who opposes the Special Tribunal in Lebanon, which is expected to indict members of Hezbollah for the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Not only in this situation was the United States unable to leverage its influence to prevent the government’s collapse, but in fact the U.S. alliance ultimately served as a liability for Saad Hariri. Expect a renewed stretch of civil war, instability and terror in the Levant.

Other examples abound of a decline in U.S. influence abroad. Within the upcoming year, American troops will completely withdraw from Iraq, leaving it at the mercy of Iran, Al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremists. The United States has sent signals to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban that its presence in Central Asia will be short-lived and that it lacks resolve. Turkey has turned eastward and has begun acting against America in the region. The Obama administration has not in any way altered Syria and Iran’s behavior, and has only legitimated these regimes and encouraged their behavior through appeasement efforts, such as the nomination of an ambassador to Syria and the failure to support the Green Movement. The United States has not made a bit of difference during the last two years on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Additionally, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the 2012 budget ravage the defense department for savings.

Who will take advantage of this vacuum? Certainly Iran, which is making more progress than ever on its quest for regional hegemony, will take advantage. Russia detects weakness and continues its irredentist foreign policy in the Caucuses and Eastern Europe. China clearly does not fear America; while it represses its citizens and threatens countries like Japan, India and Taiwan, Obama invites Hu Jintao over for an official state dinner.

To some degree, a lot of this is inevitable. The United States suffers from a 9 percent unemployment rate, massive debt and deficits, an eroding manufacturing base, and other symptoms of economic malaise, resulting in a corresponding decline in power. Also, some of the events I mentioned, such as the Egyptian Revolution, were largely unavoidable and the United States can’t change everything to its liking. America is still, however, by leagues and bounds, the leading hegemonic power in the world. It is not in a state of interminable decline like Europe and Japan and, with sensible leadership and policies, its economy will ultimately recover.

For the sake of international stability, prosperity and security, the world still needs America’s presence, moral compass and guidance.

Instead of begrudgingly accepting a fate marked by deterioration in this country’s capabilities, the Obama administration needs to play the part and pursue policies that fulfill these global responsibilities.