Obama presidency: Decline in the fall?

Mark Mardell
North America editor
@BBCMarkMardellon Twitter

image copyrightAP

As the chill creeps into Washington's nights and leaves start to tumble on to the White House lawn, President Barack Obama's fall will, some predict, prove his decline.

A recent slew of articles are declaring it so, and they are not all from the usual suspects on the right.

The case for it is based first on his foreign policy.

He dithered over Syria, vacillated over the Arab revolutions, and has been tricked by the Russian president into not firing even a pinprick of American power. Even the president of Brazil has cancelled a visit.

Carl Meacham, director of the Americas Programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a foreign policy think thank, writes that until this moment "no world leader has cancelled a planned state visit to the United States.

"For the first time since the end of the Cold War, our influence in the world is being seriously questioned," he adds.

Perfect storm?

At home, Mr Obama has failed to get the man he wants at the Fed, even though he once described the choice as the most important economic decision of his second term.

As one commentator has rightly pointed out, both Syria and Larry Summers' exit from the Fed line-up were dictated by restless Democrats.

It is worse than that. In his second-term inauguration speech he startled some by promising a radical agenda, dealing with gun control, immigration and the environment.

He hasn't even tried to start on the environment. And the other two measures are languishing in that legislative equivalent of the horse latitudes, Congress. Like the horses, the bills are likely to be pitched overboard.

The Republican threat to shut the government down at the end of this month unless "Obamacare" is gutted would once have seemed dramatic. Now it is just another of Mr Obama's woes.

But this is not yet a perfect storm - more the appearance of thunder clouds on the horizon.

Mr Obama's foreign policy looks clumsy, as he feels his way towards a different role for America in the world, which accepts "the rise of the rest".

It is so alien to many of the political class in the West that they are left feeling insecure and scorn his weakness.

The US president now so disdains the 24-hour news cycle, that he has made a mistake of ignoring the narrative completely.

He has fumbled his way out of a crisis, and at least for now looks like he may have got what he wants - no military action and Syria promising to do away with chemical weapons.

His domestic problem is almost entirely different.

If many Democrats are no longer playing ball, it may have something to do with disappointment, but more to do with 2016.

It won't be long before there is a new kid on the White House block, and that changes calculations.

As for the coming budget battles in Congress, while Mr Obama's position looks weak, the Republicans look weaker - and as close as 2016 is, the mid-term elections of 2014 are even closer.

It is unsurprising that, to some, this feels like a turning point.

But while fall always turns to winter, it doesn't always spell decline.

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