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Olivier Richomme, et Vincent Michelot (eds), Le bilan d’Obama

Paris, les Presses de Sciences Po, 2012
Lori Maguire
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Olivier Richomme, et Vincent Michelot (eds), Le bilan d'Obama, Paris, les Presses de Sciences Po, 2012

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1This book attempts to do exactly what its title suggests: through a series of fourteen chapters it tries to give an overview of major issues during Obama’s first term. In the introduction the editors begin by contesting the view of Obama as a progressive force in the line of Roosevelt and Johnson. They argue that this is “un prisme terriblement déformant qui brouille la lecture et l’interprétation de l’action de l’administration Obama”. Given the difficult environment in Washington (sharp partisan divide and institutional constraints, notably in the Senate) Obama has had little choice but to seek compromise. In fact, certain contributions underline a real continuity with previous Republican administrations, shown sometimes by titles containing the words “de Bush à Obama” or, in the case of Justin Vaisse’s article on relations with Europe, subtitles like, “Du retour de Nixon et Kissinger”. Certainly, as recent protests by liberals show, it is difficult to argue with this interpretation. In fact, the conservative British commentator, Andrew Sullivan has gone so far as to call Obama a “moderate Republican” – although the president’s move somewhat to the left during his second campaign has gone some way to restoring his progressive credentials.

2This book has many excellent qualities, in particular in the first part concerning foreign policy. Given its importance, it is not surprising that the book begins with a fairly detailed analysis of the Obama administration’s conduct of the wars inherited from Bush as well as a brief discussion on Libya. This is followed by examinations of Middle Eastern policies, relations with Europe and Latin America and a chapter on foreign economic policy. All of these are very interesting although one could regret the virtual absence of Russia, North Korea and Iran and the limitation of China to economic policy.

3The next two sections which consider domestic policy and institutional questions are also of interest. The chapters, in and of themselves, are often very good, although they contain, at times, some duplication. For example, two chapters consider different aspects of the health care reform while there is a chapter on Congress and another on the Senate (although it can certainly be argued that, since most of the institutional problems are in the Senate, it deserves an in-depth study). Other chapters consider immigration, Wall Street reform, the Obama electoral coalition, Guantanamo and the question of race. This is followed by a conclusion that seeks to evaluate both the achievements of Obama’s first term and the man himself. To some he is indecisive and too ready to compromise while others see him as subtle and nuanced. He is thus a figure of contradictions: “il reste des contradictions chez cet orateur enflammé qui apparait souvent distant, chez ce président intransigeant sur les grande priorités mais très souple quant aux détails de ses politiques, chez ce stratège du long terme qui est aussi un pragmatique averti.” But however you look at it he is a historic figure.

4This book presents us with able analyses of important issues but one would have liked to see more on other major areas like economic policy (limited to foreign economic policy and Wall Street reform) or on the repercussions and evolutions of the Patriot Act (the one article that considers some aspects of this is restricted to Guantanamo and tends to focus more on the Bush era), or the role of the Supreme Court. Obviously a complete assessment would have required an immense number of pages – probably more than any French publisher would agree to. Certainly the issues covered in most depth here are those that have received the most coverage in the French press which makes the editorial decisions to a large extent understandable. In the end the book has considerable merits but leaves us wishing for a bit more in a number of cases.

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Lori Maguire, « Olivier Richomme, et Vincent Michelot (eds), Le bilan d’Obama », L'Ordinaire des Amériques [En ligne], Comptes rendus, mis en ligne le 19 novembre 2013, consulté le 25 juin 2018. URL :

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Lori Maguire

Université de Paris 8

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