By Sandip RoyOriginally posted at New America Media.
“America is back,” President Barack Obama said in his
2012 State of the Union address. That sounds muscular, very
Schwarzenegger-sque. But America’s new avatar is a little different from
old Uncle Sam.
In 2009 in his first State of the Union,
President Barack Obama said “We will rebuild, we will recover, and the
United States of America will emerge stronger than before … It is time
for America to lead again.”
What a difference one term in office makes.
year in his State of the Union, Obama, still struggling with a far from
recovered economy, laid out a rather different vision.
America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs -- and as
long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way.”
indispensable nation in world affairs” does not quite have the ring of a
“leader.” It sounds more like a trusted executive assistant -- Warren
Buffett’s secretary instead of Warren Buffett. Whether Obama intended
it or not, it is a shift in the United States’ vision of itself, not so
much the leader of the free world, rather its very efficient secretary.
It is not James Bond. It is not M. America might be back but it wants to
be Miss Moneypenny now.
Obama is launching a fight for his
second term. This speech was in many ways his first important salvo in
his reelection campaign. It was a strong speech and no surprise it was
about the economy. The references to America’s leadership abroad were
more in a Mission Accomplished vein. No Americans are fighting in Iraq.
Osama bin Laden is not a threat anymore. The troops in Afghanistan have
begun to come home. Check. Check. Check.
When it comes to the
world Obama was signaling that America was not interested in anything
new, anything visionary, anything leader-like. He instead ran through a
checklist of accomplishments and promised more of the same. Alliances
with Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Ties to the Americas are
deeper. Stronger. Better. Deeper. These are not visionary words. These
are about preserving a status quo, at best making good a little better.
Obama pretty much indicated he was going to hold on to the status quo
when it came to America’s international standing.
“As long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way.”
on Iran, while he took no options off the table, he signaled a job well
(or at least moderately well) done. A B+ if you will. “A world that was
once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands
as one,” he said.
It is tempting to read this as the sign of the
setting of America’s sun on the world stage. It is tempting to switch
back to the political pundit’s favourite reality show -- Who Wants to be
the Next Superpower? Will it be China or India or BRIC? But it would be
wrong to read this speech as an abdication of America’s role on the
world stage. It is instead a more realistic recalibration. Even in a
multipolar world, America will remain “indispensable” says its
president. So don’t write it off yet. Bill Emmett, author of Rivals: How
the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape our Next
, had foreshadowed this a few years ago when he had said that even
if the future is about an “Asian century” America will still be the
“single most important country in the world in that century but not the
Obama’s critics have often complained that he
wants to be President of the world, rather than the President of the
United States. His premature Nobel Peace Prize just heightened that
feeling. Now he’s buckling down to the job he was actually elected for.
He knows that Arab Springs will not affect his campaign but a Detroit
winter will. And he’s making a virtue out of necessity.
now, it’s getting more expensive to do business in places like China,”
Obama told his audience. “Meanwhile America is more productive. A few
weeks ago, the CEO of Master Lock told me that it now makes business
sense for him to bring jobs back home.”
Read it another way and
you could say the President was saying the situation has hit rock
bottom. China is up. America is down. It’s actually starting to make
economic sense to bring jobs back to America. America is affordable
again just as foreclosed houses are a good buy.
The President had
his usual feel-good cheerleading lines. “When we act together, there is
nothing the United States of America can’t achieve.” But the innate
America sense of exceptionalism was more muted. That’s not such a bad
thing. Superpowers come and go, but everyone always needs a good