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Obama, US Politics, and Transatlantic Relations

Change or Continuity?

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Giles Scott-Smith

In November 2008 Barack Obama was elected as President of the United States after a campaign that promised change and renewal. Many in the United States – and Europe – hoped for a new beginning. But what has been achieved?
The nineteen essays in this book provide a timely assessment of the ‘Obama Effect’ in transatlantic relations during the first years of his administration. Ranging from Obama’s importance within US domestic politics to his impact on specific policy areas (national security, international law, the environment) and regions (Middle East, South Asia), the book combines perspectives from the United States and across the European continent to present a unique multi-layered assessment of Obama’s political influence and the current state of play within US-European relations.

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Conclusion (Giles Scott-Smith)

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315 Conclusion Giles SCOTT-SMITH Roosevelt Study Center / Leiden University Should we conclude, based on the preceding chapters, that the Obama years have so far been nothing but a disappointment for the conduct and condition of transatlantic relations? Not entirely. The evidence suggests strongly that the ‘Obama effect’ may not have been what was hoped for in 2008, but it still has genuine meaning in political, legal, and policy-making terms. Under President George W. Bush the United States had adopted a strong unilateral stance on world affairs, expressed disdain for domestic and international legal conventions, and extended executive power in the name of national security, acts which were deemed controversial by a broad cross-section of European (not to say American) opinion. Obama’s presidential campaign suggested that he would act to roll back some of these traits to repair constitutional boundaries and the US reputation abroad. To a certain extent he fol- lowed through once in office, but the failure to push through some of the most significant reforms – the closure of Guantanamo Bay being prominent among them – have damaged the sense that “change” could really happen. However, this should not lead to a simplistic judgement of success or failure. The identity of Barack Obama remains a factor of significant im- portance in the US political environment itself, indicating possibilities that were unthinkable not so long ago and inspiring some noticeable soul-searching within other nations. Obama’s status as a “Green” politician may after all be questionable, but any critique needs to...

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