Incumbency trumps hope as Obama loses luster overseas

German mag blasts Obama and U.S. politics

John Dyer By John Dyer

A U.S. Navy drone conducting tests over Maryland. (Reuters)

Thousands flocked to hear Barack Obama, then a presidential candidate, when he delivered an open-air speech in the middle of Berlin in 2008. To Europeans at the time, Obama was the antidote to the rancor fomented worldwide by then-President George Bush. He was hope. He was change. He would be different.

On Monday, the respected German magazine Der Spiegel showed how those pleasant notions have been thrown out the window.

In a cover story entitled “How Obama Has Failed to Deliver,” the magazine’s writers blast Obama, the Republican Party and everyone else in American politics. It’s a remarkably comprehensive piece that’s the journalistic equivalent of a double-barreled shotgun blast at pointblank range.

The story includes conversations with NBC political commentator Chuck Todd, novelist Jonathan Franzen and others. It notes how Americans are fat, how we regularly use guns to kill each other, how our system of political fundraising is crazy, et cetera.

Here are four juicy tidbits:

  1. “The fact that Kim Kardashian’s marriage lasted only 72 days can have a longer-lasting impact on the news in America than any environmental policy initiative.”
  2. “The project of national reconciliation, which he (Obama) famously invoked in his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention by saying “there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America,” has been a failure.”
  3. “When former Alaska Governor and vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the great hope of dim-witted America, calls the president a socialist on her Facebook page, she attracts more attention than a team of reporters from the New York Times that has spent months researching stories about nuclear weapons, the banking crisis and war.”
  4. “Vice President Joe Biden’s current mantra is that anyone who wants to evaluate the Obama presidency needs to know only one sentence: “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” More or less everyone involved in the race is using the same tone, making the political contest sound like an ad for chocolate bars or toilet paper.”

Der Speigel is the German equivalent of The New Yorker. Draw your conclusions about the magazine’s editorial bias. But know this: its reporters are pros. Coincidentally, the story came out around the same time as the Pew Research Center published a survey that found Obama’s popularity was flagging abroad.

Droning on

The Der Speigel piece also criticizes Obama’s use of drones throughout the world, saying the flying war machines do not “coincide with Obama’s visions at the beginning of his term, including his desire to bring reconciliation to the world and to promote peace, especially between the United States and the world of Islamic culture.”

South Africa’s The Daily Maverick tackled the same topic on Thursday in a harshly critical piece on drones in South Asia.

The magazine quotes a book by Rageh Omar, a Somali-born British author who wrote “Revolution Day,” to convey why foreigners who have enjoyed American science fiction movies about killer robots taking over the world might now find drones frightfully inhumane:

“At times it was hard to believe that such destruction could be the work of mere mortals. The thunderclaps from the explosions, the eruption of fire, ash and smashed concrete and the towers of smoke seemed beyond human scale. How could all this come from young men and women sitting in some control centre at a coalition base, staring into computer screens and selecting targets thousands of miles away? The military planners guided the air war from quiet, air-conditioned bunkers in secret bases in rural England and from a specially built command centre in the Gulf state of Qatar. The banks of computers in these command centres were reminiscent of a dealing room in an investment bank. Could the officers or their senior commanders look beyond the screens and appreciate what ‘Shock and Awe’ really looked like to the ordinary people who were forced to endure it?”

The drones have been highly criticized in Pakistan, whose leaders say the U.S. is flying the machines into their airspace against their wishes. The intrigue over the drones and other thorny issues in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been covered ad nauseam, making it great fare for Pakistan-based comedic writer and cartoonist Sabir Nazar in DAWN.com.

Drones: the ultimate NIMBY technology

The Pew survey also asked people around the world what they thought about drones. In 17 out of the 21 countries surveyed, more than half of those polled disapproved — and pollsters didn’t go to Pakistan (the Pew site said they are conducting a separate survey there).

The U.S. was the only country where more than half of respondents — 62 percent — approved of the drone strikes.

But while Americans support drones overseas, they’re growing less enthusiastic for drones flying in the U.S.

Seizing on Americans’ suspicion of government surveillance, Senator Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican and son of ex-GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, proposed legislation on Tuesday that would curb when authorities can deploy the drones in U.S. territory.

So here’s the question as the run-up to the U.S. presidential election grows more intense: How will Democrat Obama’s advocacy for the drones stand up to a Republican proposal to curb the power of the military and law enforcement?