Every politician has to establish an image about himself in the public opinion. Barack Obama has since the beginning of his presidency to struggle to get rid of his image as a whimp. The early winning of the peace nobel price did not help him to get rid of this public image. The killing of Osama Bin Laden was considered by Democrats to free him from this, but after all, especially now after the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis this loss of face is looming again on him. The severely weakened US economy due to the outrageous behavior of the Wall Street banks and the global financial market collapse has forced the US government to become much more modest in its ambitious to be the single global superpower. The overstretching of the US global military engagements from Afghanistan to Iraq and its inability to decisively win the situation there, has forced the US government to a more modest position of disengagement. It was not insight on the first hand but the inability to go on as before as the Bush administration has done. However, external and internal security issues have become an obsession of the US administration since 9/11. The NSA scandal revealed step by step by Edward Snowden since June last year just illustrated this false direction of total digital control over the global society. This has damaged the reputation of Barack Obama and his administration severely not only by the traditional adversaries like in China, Russia or North Korea, but in the rest of the world as well in particular also with its allies. The denial of an anti-spy agreement with Germany is just one of the last disillusions about the partnership with the US. It is not a partnership among equals, it never was, but now everyone knows for certain that it is not.
The rumbling along of the US government over the past couple of years due to a divided US Congress did not help to overcome the crisis. On the one hand the US would need a more fair and equal inclusive social policy, but this shows to be impossible due to the deadlock in Congress but as well the lacking insight of big business that they have to take on their fair share of the burden. Instead tax evasion, excessive bonus payments and ignorance towards the social needs govern the business environment of the big business companies on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley as well. The military-industrial complex – a term coined by Dwight D. Eisenhower – has become so powerful that wasteful military spending has caused a financial barrier to redirect policies into new areas. So the whimpiness of Barack Obama not only relates towards the international community, i.e. a lack of leadership to overcome major political conflicts – as the total failure to contain the Syrian conflict or direct a Islamic revolution in Egypt towards a democratic reformed political system, but as well to the internal agenda. Neither Wall Street and Big Money or Big Companies were ruled in to play their fair share to rebuilt the US society and economy. Instead the lobby rules instead of the people.
Lack of leadership leads finally to a loss of legitimacy as Ian Bremmer rightly observes. If people and all the highly divided vested interest groups realize this lack of leadership they start more and more to go on their own interests without any willingness to compromise for the social welfare.
Now as the biggest challenge of his presidency has emerged in the Ukrainian crisis would demand strong leadership from Barack Obama. If Obama fails this time again this will soon lead to a further rapid erosion of the US global position. The Nato alliance depends on the credibility that the US as its hegemon is willing to defend its allies under all circumstances. Even if the Ukrain is not a member of the Nato alliance, the Poles, the Baltic states and many other East European countries will lose their trust in the US commitment in Europe as part of the alliance. One should not forget that a former Ukrainian government sent troops as part of the willing countries to Afghanistan, when the US asked for their support. Now it would be the time for the US to pay back. If they do not do this they will not only leave Ukraine to the mercy of the Russian government of Putin, but they will lose the support from most of the other countries in Eastern Europe and around the world.
In game theory one distinguishes between cooperative and non-cooperative games. Rational agents will only cooperate with their potential adversaries if the benefits of cooperation exceed those of non-cooperation. If Russian aggression costs Russia too little, i.e. non-cooperation, they will not cooperate or negotiate anything which both sides could accept as a workable compromise. Gutlessness is counterproductive to maintain peace. Deterrence only works if the opponent accepts that the other side is willing to act decisively when the challenger does not cooperate and refrain from aggression. The price of non-cooperation must be too high, to risk non-cooperation.
More than a decade ago American politician claimed that Americans are from Mars and Europeans from Venus. It seems this is not any more the case. Without strong resistance against aggression peace cannot be maintained. A lesson the US will have to learn in the future again.