Original Post At Al Ahram Weekly 24/1/2017
The audacity of outgoing US president Barack Obama was not simply about promising what he could not deliver, but was also about helping to create a much worse world, writes Hany Ghoraba
Outgoing US president Barack Obama spent 2,922 days in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. He was a president who had massive support domestically and internationally and had a clear mandate to change traditional Washington policies. He adopted “change” as his electoral slogan and won the 2008 presidential elections in a landslide victory with an unprecedented mandate from the American people to change US politics. Obama did indeed change some policies, but not necessarily for the better. Indeed, some of what he did has turned out to be catastrophic.
Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 almost upon showing up in office with no achievement behind him except the high hopes that had been invested in him and the anticipation of a new era of “change”. His years in the Oval Office then showed how controversial the Nobel Committee’s decision was, as Obama failures on the international scene soon became staggering.
Obama ignited fires across the Middle East through proxy wars with US funding and by arming jihadists masquerading as the “armed opposition” in Libya and Syria. In other words, he did exactly what his predecessor president George W Bush did in Afghanistan and Iraq, but instead of utilising the US military his administration funded militants to get the job done instead. As a result, chaos became rampant across the entire Middle East region, and for the first time in modern history a terrorist group under the name of the Islamic State (IS) group declared a pseudo-caliphate on the ruins of Iraqi and Syrian cities.
The Arab-Israeli conflict was not resolved as Obama promised, and in fact the conflict is now witnessing one of the worst deadlocks in recent decades as a result of the weak approach of the Obama administration and its inability to influence the conflicting parties towards reaching a peace based on a two-state solution.
The nuclear deal signed with Iran in 2015 has only granted the world a breathing space from the evident military ambitions of the Iranian regime. As a result, the regime now has an abundance of funds to support its military ambitions in the region without meaningful deterrence.
According to data provided by the US Special Operations Command, American special forces were dispatched to 138 countries, representing 70 per cent of the world’s population, in 2016 alone. This number rose from 60 countries in 2009. Moreover, according to the US Council on Foreign Relations, the US military dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016, which translates to 72 bombs per day on countries such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Libya.
Obama did not stop there, but also continued the feud with Russia, thus reigniting old conflicts which mostly ended with the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991. As a result, this Nobel Peace Prize winner and self-proclaimed candidate for change managed to achieve what even his warmongering predecessor Bush never dared to do, which was resurrecting the Cold War with Russia. Obama’s policies in Eastern Europe and his hostility towards the Russian president have rebounded in a massive Russian rearmament programme and an escalation of its global presence.
The Russian presence in the global theatre in 2017 is unprecedented since the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russians felt that Obama was attempting to encircle them by all means, and consequently they decided that they would not simply defend themselves but would counter-attack in many global conflicts. The latest of these was the Syrian conflict, in which Russian military intervention in favour of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has stopped the rapid expansion of IS and Al-Qaeda in Syria.
Obama spent almost the last month of his presidency booby-trapping the presidency of the new US President Donald Trump, presenting him with as many problems as he could muster. Not content with reigniting the Cold War with Russia, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the United States on allegations of conspiracy undertaken by Russian intelligence to influence American voters towards Trump.
The attempt failed when Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to retaliate to this rushed decision with equal diplomatic measures and instead invited the families of American diplomats in Russia over for Christmas Dinner. Putin did not fall into the trap set by Obama when the latter decided to make a show of force so late in the game.
Russian weapons testing and arms sales to countries that were once regarded as US allies such as Egypt, along with military manoeuvres with them, also shows that Obama’s policies towards Russia have backfired, turning Russia into a much stronger adversary of the United States.
BROKEN PROMISES: Moreover, Obama did not keep his word in shutting down the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba.
This highly controversial camp was among several used by the United States to detain terrorism suspects for years without trial. Instead of closing it, Obama tried to release a few detainees in the last weeks of his presidency.
Throughout his presidency, Obama had a hard time distinguishing between Islam as a faith and Islamism and between Muslims and Islamists. This incomprehension and lack of knowledge has created an assortment of problems for the United States and the world.
Obama believed that the Muslim Brotherhood was made up of peaceful Muslims practising their religion in peace, and so for him having them as allies running countries across the Middle East might have sounded like good strategy. But neglecting the fact that jihadist terrorism across the world has been based on the deviant teaching of the Muslim Brotherhood, which later spawned the likes of Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad and the Islamic State (IS) group, among others, has led to disaster.
Moreover, double standards while preaching democracy have characterised the eight years in power of Obama. Praising Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, visiting Cuba’s late president Fidel Castro, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, along many other dictators, have been among Obama’s proudest moments.
Despite the cordial nature of Obama and his friendly attitude, personal relations and emotions have clouded his judgement and consequently American foreign policy towards many countries. An example of this has been the cold relations between Obama and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, hurting US relations and interests with international allies.
Obama has selectively settled upon allegations of human rights violations in Egypt and Russia accompanied by White House media propaganda campaigns that have criticised these countries’ fight against terrorism. Yet, the same president and his propaganda machine labelled a visit to Cuba as “historic” despite its being one of the oldest communist dictatorships in the world.
Apparently, Obama believes that Castro and his brother, who have ruled Cuba since the 1959 coup d’état are more democratic than elected President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. Hypocrisy could hardly have been more obvious than in this so-called historic visit to Cuba, which in fact marked the triumph of Cuba’s Castro over the United States after over 60 years of cold war.
The economic successes of Obama can be summarised in his policies to reduce US unemployment, revive the stock exchange and save the automobile industries. However, looking at the bigger picture, Obama, who promised to slice the US national deficit in half, has left the Oval Office with a national debt of $19.9 trillion. While managing to cut the deficit by up to two-thirds by the end of his second term in office, he also managed to nearly double the national debt, adding over $9 trillion. This debt, much of which is to China and Saudi Arabia, leaves the country’s future vulnerable to the influence of other nations that may not share American views on democracy.
Furthermore, violence and racial tensions in the United States, especially during Obama’s second term, were possibly at their worst level since the late 1960s Civil Rights movement. Violence towards African-Americans and other minorities became rampant without effective policies being adopted by the president to counter it.
Obama’s domestic political failures cast their shadow on the Democratic Party and particularly on Hillary Clinton, the presidential elections nominee. She entered the elections with the heavy baggage of her political past, mostly collected during Obama’s first term as president when she was US secretary of state.
Despite her attempts to distance herself from his policies over the last four years, the fallout of Obama’s miscalculations in Libya, Syria, Egypt and Iraq came back to haunt her during her presidential campaign like impending doom. The end result was one of the worst defeats for both Clinton and the Democratic Party in decades in the 2016 elections.
The epitome of Obama’s failure can be seen in the very fact that Donald Trump was elected US president when disgruntled American voters decided to shift towards the alternative-right policies promised by Trump instead of Obama’s lackluster policies.
Obama’s disappointing two presidential terms were the direct cause of Americans’ feelings of a lack of security, something which shifted much of the population towards the right-wing rhetoric of Donald Trump. The latter is abrasive in his rhetoric, but mimics the disgruntled feelings of a good majority of the American people.
The audacity of Obama was not simply about promising what he could not deliver as a politician or as a president, but it was also about the audacity of failing to deliver these promises while helping to create a much worse world than before he took the helm as president of the United States.
Original Post At Al Ahram Weekly http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/19320.aspx