President Barack Obama’s legacy is enviable – Mary Dejevsky | Independent UK

President Barack Obama’s legacy is enviable – so why can’t the American people see that?

Everything that you think Barack Obama got wrong on foreign and domestic policy, he actually got right – his biggest ‘failures’ were in the fact his biggest triumphs

President Obama

President Obama

Mary Dejevsky | Independent UK

Barack Obama will leave office on 20 January with his approval ratings rising to approach those of Bill Clinton when he bowed out 16 years ago. Despite this, his presidency is already being dismissed by many as – if not actually a failure – then a bitter disappointment. He will now be condemned to stand by as his successor – the very opposite of him in so many ways – sets about shredding his legacy.

Of course, this is all part of the cut and thrust of American politics, more visceral and crueller in so many ways than ours. Nor is Obama’s failure to safeguard his legacy unique. Clinton, for all his perceived success, also failed to secure the election of another Democrat and had to watch as much of the international goodwill he had built up was destroyed by the reckless decisions of George W. Bush.  

Where many of the immediate judgements about the Clinton and Bush presidencies have stood the test of time, however, I wonder whether the early verdicts on Obama will endure so well. It is not just that the current script is being dictated disproportionately by his critics, but that they seem to be looking backward rather than forward. I would venture to bet that at least some of the very policies for which Obama is facing the fiercest attack could turn out to be historic achievements which will constitute a formidable memorial.

And the cornerstone of that memorial could be the supposed foreign policy passivity for which Obama has been most vilified. It is true that his record abroad is mixed, and his great overture to the Arab world which he had planned as his opening gambit came to little, largely due to forces – the Arab Spring – beyond his, and anyone’s, control. But the real failures – an early “surge” that delayed the promised withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaos produced by the – arm’s length – US intervention in Libya were where he was persuaded to act against his better judgement, by General David Petraeus in the first instance, and by the UK and France in the second.

They are also vastly outweighed by the successes, though they would not be classed as such in the conventional way success might be measured by many Americans. Top of the list would be Obama’s much-maligned decision not to act on his “red line” on the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons in Syria. That, according to his critics, sent the message that the USA would not honour its commitments and left a regional vacuum that Russia was able to fill. Another way of looking at it would be – as Obama explained in his interviews forAtlantic monthly – that he feared being tricked into an unwise intervention that would suck the USA into yet another unwinnable war.

He was right here. He was also right to step back from direct intervention in Ukraine, and in particular to resist requests from the Kiev government for weapons. In so doing, he treated Ukraine as at most a regional – rather than proxy superpower – conflict, and helped to keep it geographically confined.

The thinking behind these non-actions, as Obama himself has explained, is that the USA has to pick its fights according to its national interest, and there are some fights – as Clinton partly said – where the USA simply does not have a dog; indeed, where intervention may actually damage USA security.

On other issues, Obama has shown a more collegiate approach than has habitually been USA policy. These would include the USA part in the Iran nuclear agreement, Washington’s support for the Paris climate change accord, and – one of Obama’s parting shots – the abstention in the recent UN Security Council vote condemning Israeli settlements. Far from demonstrating USA weakness, however – or, as some of his opponents chide, the abandonment of USA “exceptionalism” – Obama’s willingness to join international coalitions shows a realistic appreciation of the new world in which the USA now finds itself. While still dominant militarily and economically, it faces more different challenges from more directions than before.

The question is not just how, but whether, to respond. And it is worth asking here whether Donald Trump’s foreign policy will veer significantly away from the course Obama has set. A general reluctance to play the world’s policeman; “smart” interventions, if there are interventions, with special forces and drones; a reliance on deterrence – these are the US foreign policy changes made by Obama, and they look unlikely to be reversed.

The same continuity is unlikely to be observed in domestic policy, where Trump has been withering about Obama’s economic priorities and has vowed to repeal “Obamacare”. It could even be argued that an unintended effect of Obama’s tendency to stress the macro-economy at the expense of the “left behind” helped open the door to Trump.

Without Obama’s success in steadying the economy, however, Trump might not have the luxury he now has to promise new infrastructure development and repatriating jobs. As for Obamacare, extending health insurance to so many more Americans was an enormous feat, and, for all the vested interests ranged against it, such progress will not be so simple to turn back. With Trump already diluting his campaign pitch, it is not impossible that any repeal could, paradoxically, mask the introduction of a system that works better for more people and has fewer flaws.

The bigger conundrum, though, remains. If Obama has achieved so much more than his many detractors proclaim, why is there this disconnect? And why does the social advance that his election represented seem so summarily to have stalled?

Among the reasons must surely be the sky-high expectations of the man who was inaugurated as the country’s first black president eight years ago. He proved unable to realise the hopes his campaign had raised, whether for prosperity and racial harmony at home or for peace abroad. He was also cursed with a recalcitrant Congress that he never really learned to tame.

Yet the rising esteem in which Obama is held as he leaves office suggests two tentative conclusions. First, that he will be judged rather more kindly in the future than he is now. And second, that the election of his polar opposite, with his pledges to reverse track, marks the last gasp of an old era, rather than the start of something new.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 01/07/2017 at 12:52 pm

    Why Arabs Hate President Obama? | Mamdouh Al-Muhaini – Al Arabiya [English]

    President Obama’s relations with Arabs and Muslims started on a good note, then witnessed betrayal and ended up with hatred. The most powerful president of the world ignored the massacres that took the lives of Arab and Muslim children. He continued to remain silent despite terrorist Sunni and Shiite militias targeting towns and villages. He even entered into a deal with their biggest enemy.

    But who is guilty – us or him? Maybe both? In fact, we did not understand his approach and policies properly. We had high expectations and insisted on seeing him as an exceptional president who will change the face of the world, even before he entered the White House.

    In just two weeks, Obama will leave office and it is not difficult to analyze his legacy. He has been neither great nor miserable. He is neither extraordinary – as we expected – nor bad. He seemed to be a technocrat steeped in local issues without a global vision as president of the most powerful nation in the world should have.

    The first mistake we made was in reading and understanding his Cairo University speech, which he delivered in 2009. We were moved by the emotional fervour that accompanied the victory of an African-American whose father’s name was Hussein and who was of Muslim origin. His father was in fact an atheist. We ignored the message that he had sent, which clearly stated that he wanted to withdraw from the Middle East as soon as possible.

    His speech was entitled “The New Beginning” but those who carefully listened to it knew that its real title should have been more like “goodbye.” He used Arabic words in his speech and talked about his memories in Indonesia as a child. He touched the Arabs and Muslims by mentioning the glories of their ancient civilization.

    All this psychological manipulation was to calm them down following the wave of anger toward the U.S.A. especially after the era of President George W. Bush. He then distanced himself from our region and this is what literally happened after that.

    Understanding Foreign Policy

    The second mistake was in understanding his foreign policy. On an intellectual level, Obama did not believe that diluting the monopoly over global affairs, which was constantly echoed by his predecessors, would devalue the “greatness of America”. Those who were close to him had the same vision. During his tenure, he changed three defense ministers: Bob Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hagel, because they did not have the same approach like him.

    The only moment that Obama expressed a strong desire to intervene in foreign affairs was a mere emotional outburst that ended right after stepping into the White House. That was the famous threat of taking al-Assad down; which is now infamously known as the “red line”.

    Obama’s critics were asking things from him that he did not have. Those who begged – out of humanitarian and moral obligations – for the USA use of force that is capable of blowing up the planet to save the children from explosive barrels, forgot that he decided from the beginning to be a spectator. He demonstrated more interest in USA internal issues, such as health reforms and raising wages.

    He appeared stubborn and lacked compassion toward the terrible events that shook the world, like for instance the images of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian child who was found drowned and Omran Daqneesh, the Syrian boy after the air strike in Aleppo. His disdain for what happens outside his country’s borders was clear as he used to receive terrible news of tragedies in Syria committed by the al-Assad regime. Yet he reacted – he was always busy on his BlackBerry.

    The only argument that he used to resort to repeatedly was that the United States intervened in Iraq and the results were negative. One of the journalists once responded by saying: “But the world does not end in Iraq!”

    He did not even take into consideration the American intellectual and politicians’ criticism. It was not a matter of morality, but rather a matter of maintaining international order, interests and influence toward a “world that the USA had created” as stated in the title of a book written by one of his critics.

    Approach to Terrorism

    Moreover, we did not understand Obama’s approach toward terrorism. It was perplexing to see ISIS, one of the most evil organizations, expanding during his tenure and committing dreadful massacres that no one had imagined in the 21st century. The USA President believes that terrorism is the Muslim problem and should be dealt with away from the shores of the United States of America.

    He thinks that he defeated terrorism when the USA took down Osama bin Laden and confirmed that the intensity of terrorism has decreased. He insisted on his position, although everybody believed that it was not true; he also limited himself to unmanned drones. Obama expressed his interest in global warming issues and, in The Atlantic magazine interview, considered it more important than all of our issues today.

    The main reason behind all this was Obama’s orientation toward politics. He probably considered himself smarter and more educated than those in his government. Hence he used to think, decide and dictate without taking into consideration the advice of others, such as Hillary Clinton, whom he marginalized when she was secretary of state. The same happened to Richard Holbrook who died without getting the chance to convince him to change his tactic in Afghanistan.

    Obama was not able to become friends with other leaders. He distanced himself and remained secluded. He only became friends with Dmitry Medvedev and that was due to both being lawyers. It is said that he preferred to have dinner with his wife and two daughters rather than going to cocktail parties and meeting members of the Congress to strengthen his friendship and get their approval on his projects.

    The Social Media Generation

    He currently does not have Republican friends or allies; therefore, his Obamacare program might be under threat of revocation by Donald Trump. Obama believes that he belongs to the Facebook and Twitter generation yet he does not need to shoot short clips to communicate with his supporters and admirers. He does not even believe that he should be sitting with political figures who are opposed to his vision.

    Obama is not a president who failed domestically. He has contributed to economic reforms and saving the automobile industry. He also endorsed an important health project even though it had several weaknesses.

    He is a good orator and his book “Dreams from My Father” is one of the best biographies. However, the USA president is the head of the world and “an indispensable nation,” as Bill Clinton rightly said. The USA has eradicated evil regimes such as Nazism and fascism, weakened barbaric groups like al-Qaeda and maintained a liberal order, in which we are living today after the decline of the European powers.

    Obama is the first USA president to be hated by so many Arabs, whether they were conservatives, liberals, intellectuals, artists, traders, taxi drivers or carpenters. Strangely this time, they are right!

    This article is available in Arabic at
    Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain

  • Clyde Duncan  On 02/11/2017 at 12:31 pm

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