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Will Obama turn hawkish?

November 3, 2010

These mid-term elections in the US are watershed of sorts. Twenty months into his presidency and Barack Obama has been sidelined by the American people decisively. From times when they all shouted ‘Yes we can!’ to a time when whatever the man says is being taken with a pinch of salt, Barack Obama has come a long way in these twenty months. The Republicans now control the House of Representative and ten states get Republican governors – one of them of Indian origin Nicki Haley. In the Senate the Democrats hold a slim majority. Nancy Pelosi will have to give way to a Republican speaker. There is going to be an overhaul at the Capitol Hill. The president will have to rethink a lot of things – and learn to work with a set of people who are vehemently opposed to his style of functioning.

President Barack Obama


Obama believed that the way out of the woods from a debilitating recession is to spend your way out. Big government spending is a strict no-no with the Republicans and the Tea Party, which is a set of far rightists who really are Republicans by another name. The other pet project of the president that may take a hit is the Health Care Bill which is disparagingly called the Obama Care by the Republicans. Obama may have to make concessions there too. It appears that lobbyists have had the last laugh. They wanted the Health Care reforms be stalled and it seems that they might be able to do just that. Obama will have tough time getting bills through. The Republicans are already trying to distance themselves from any responsibility and the Democrats will invariably try to point the finger at the Reds if there is a stalemate. Obama will have to reach out to get his policies through. His persuasive skills will be at test. My fear is that nobody will like to be seen standing with Obama and people will distance themselves from the president as they believe that it will not go down well with the voters. The 2012 elections are on everybody’s mind and all posturing will be keeping in mind the mood of the public in the run up to the presidential elections.

Obama was a lonely man. He will be much lonelier after these elections. He will have to look around for support. That presidential strut may just go. He will be eager to please all more than ever. Frankly, Obama has been cornered. He has no choice but to fight back. Will he turn mellow and try and cajole or will he turn aggressive and take his chances. My hunch is that Obama is a wounded tiger. He will turn right and start taking hawkish stand. He will deliver what the men who matter want him to do. He will go further right than the Reds. He will revamp his foreign policy and start taking aggressive postures. He has no choice. The people have left him with no choice. So they want a hawk for a president, well he is more than ready to be one.

I guess Obama will do all in his power to save the Health Care Bill. That is his pet project and he will do all in his power to save the Bill. He may change it here and there but in essence his idea of health care for all Americans is one that is close to his heart. He will bargain and make a deal to save health care plan. My hunch is that he will revamp his foreign policy big time. And that is where the crunch is.

Will Obama withdraw all American forces from Iraq by 2011 now? A series of bomb blasts in which more than a hundred people have died and two hundred injured has greeted him after the debacle in the mid-term polls. I am not sure Obama will find the atmosphere conducive for a complete withdrawal. He will have to think of a longer stay in Iraq. His other problem, Afghanistan is the one that will be a real headache. What does he do there? Does he stay course or will it be prudent to withdraw. These are the tough questions that he will have to contend with.

But the trickiest one will be Iran.  How does he handle the Iran question? Does he take a decision to strike and manage a regime change or does he play it safe and let things drift. There is not much time there. He has played it safe all along and the results are there for all to see. He has tried to reason with all and sundry and he has been rebuffed with contempt. He has few options. President Bush may have been a war president but he did manage to become a two-term president. There are lobbies at play in the corridors of power in DC. Obama has resisted playing into the hands of the lobbyists but that has not been appreciated by the people of America. Yes, the recession is still there, people are still without jobs and there are foreclosures galore – people are losing their homes. But twenty months time is way too short for any president to rectify such a massive economic downswing. It is not as if the American people did not know about it. Obama understands that this is not about the economy either. He realizes that he will have to learn to play ball with those who matter in the corridors of power. He will have to go by the agenda. This election result will be a learning experience for the president. There are powerful lobbies at work out there. He has tried to further the interests of many of them and his trip to Asia is partly to get business to some key industries in the US but that is not all. He needs to be decisive and understand the realpolitik that is being played out. He will need to tango. His position in the House of Representatives is weak and he will be left with no leeway. He will have to take the Iran question head on and be decisive there.

He might harden his stand vis-à-vis China too. The currency issue will have to be sorted out. He has already given Beijing a long rope. I guess he will have little patience left and he will be desperate to make sure Beijing understands that he means business.

It will be interesting to see how Obama reacts to this poll debacle. He could go into a shell and try and keep cajoling his adversaries on various issues but that will isolate him further. He could otherwise stand up and take an aggressive posture. It is said that offense is the best defense. If Obama follows this axiom we can expect to see a changed president of the United States. Remember both Reagan and Clinton had mid-term debacles and yet won a second term. Obama still has a chance to set things right. If he mellows down further, he can kiss his chances of a second term goodbye!

Addendum: I wrote this piece before President Obama gave his press conference post mid-term loss. After having watched his press conference on TV I do not believe that the man is going to change. Let me put it this way, Obama is a simple man who will not compromise on what he believes in. And he does not believe in war and he does not believe in playing to certain interest groups. My hunch is that the man will go down fighting. The good news is that if Obama has said that the troops will be back home, then well, they will be back home on time. I cannot see Obama going into another war. The way things are an obdurate and irate Republicans will make life hell for the president and he will try his best to reason with them. Some will turn to his point of view while most will be baying for his blood.

I do not mean this in a derogatory way, but I see a bit of Michael Jackson in Obama – that same honesty, that same simplicity and also that same amazing talent.

Will he get a second term? I do not know. What I do know is that there is no other politicians either among the Republicans or Democrats as of now that can match Obama one on one. And he is pretty good at campaigning. It will be hard to make a prediction on an election two years hence. All I can say is – the guy is genuine.

Surprisingly none of the correspondents threw a foreign policy spin to their questions. All of them harped on the economy and job losses. If at all there is going to be a dramatic decision about Middle East then that will be under extenuating circumstances. I also noticed another thing. All male correspondents first asked a question standing and then pointedly added a rejoinder after the president had answered while they were sitting. Were they trying to say something by doing so? By the way all of them were from the Caucasian stock.

Obama and his Democrat party may have faced a reversal  and may not enjoy majority in the House but that does not mean that no business will be conducted. As far as India is concerned there is a bi-partisan unanimity on most issues concerning us, whether it is defence cooperation, regional issues and issues concerning business. In that this result does not affect India much. The one good news from Indian perspective is that banning outsourcing may not happen now as while the Democrats are all for protectionism, the majority Republicans see this as a retrograde. Obama will deliver whatever he promises here as on issues concerning India, there will be a unanimity.

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