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President Obama’s Legacy

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As the 2016 elections enter the general election season, everyone will be anticipating who will be the next president. Before everyone moves onto the next administration, it is imperative to review the current president’s legacy for it will affect the next president’s agenda. While many reflections will be written about President Obama’s tenure in office, a surfeit of these articles will tend to have a political bias in one way or another. Although attempting to discuss President Obama’s 8 years will not be an easy nor concise feat, an attempt at an adumbrated and neutral discussion is provided below.

Promise of a Candidate vs. Actions of a President

Before any discussion is done about the presidential tenure of Obama, readers must first remind themselves of the young senator from Illinois who broke many barriers in his run for the presidency. Senator Obama rose to the presidency on a promise to create a post-partisan utopia that many were yearning for. With voter confidence in government at an all-time low due to the false premises behind the Iraq War, Wall Street malpractices leading to the greatest economic disaster, and partisanship bifurcating the country; Obama appeared to be the savior the country needed. The political mantra of hope and change helped invigorate a public that was all but hopeless. The promise of creating the most transparent administration helped deliver Obama to the presidency. Many saw Obama not as a politician but as a redeemer who would restore the economy, public trust, and American global standing back to where it belonged. To the chagrin of many, the ascendancy of Senator Obama to the presidency did not live up to the hype that was promised. A look at the promises of the candidate versus the actions of the president will allow one to capture the president’s legacy and whether or not he stayed true to his principles.

Domestic Policy

Civil Liberties

Candidate Obama criticized President Bush’s draconian Patriot Act as undermining the civil liberties of all Americans. He promised to provide the effective tools necessary for law enforcement while restoring the Constitutional rights of Americans. As president, Obama not only extended the Patriot Act but also signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The Patriot Act pales in comparison to the NDAA. One of the most chilling aspects of the NDAA is the indefinite detention of American citizens in the US. Not only did President Obama not keep true to his promise, but under his tenure the US has entered a darker period with respect to civil liberties.

Healthcare

One of the most remembered piece of legislations during President Obama’s tenure will be Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The outcome of this law has been mixed. While promising the utmost transparency and claiming that the days of closed-door negotiations were over, President Obama promised he would broadcast the process on C-SPAN. That did not happen, instead insurance lobbyist met with the President’s staff to craft a law in their favor. Later, President Obama acknowledged he did not keep his promise.

While the ACA did bring uninsured people into the system, it also raised costs for others and pushed many out as well. According to a RAND Corp. study, approximately 23 million people gained insurance under the plan while 6 million lost coverage. One of the more beneficial aspects was the requirement to cover those who have pre-existing conditions as well as extending the maximum age for young adults under their parent’s coverage. However, the spirit of the promise was lost by negotiating and essentially allowing lobbyist from the insurance side fashion the law, which naturally they did to their own benefit. One of the most remembered piece of legislation from this administration has not lived to the spirit nor intent of what was promised.

Immigration

As a candidate, Obama promised to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as well introduce a comprehensive immigration bill to overhaul the failed immigration policy in the US. Such promises made Obama popular amongst the Hispanic voting bloc. Nevertheless once in office, President Obama not only failed on delivering on these two major promises but also increased deportations of illegal immigrants more so than his predecessor. It is believed that President Obama has deported 2 million immigrants during his tenure. One notable action by President Obama in favor of illegal immigration is the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). The plan defers actions against illegal immigrants who have children who are either citizens or permanent residents. This plan is currently awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court on its validity.

Foreign Policy

As the Bush tenure was coming to an end, both the American and global public had become weary of American interventionism. This sentiment arose out of the disastrous efforts in Iraq and the neglect towards the Afghan campaign. President Obama ran on the promise that he would mend the West’s relations with the Islamic world, avoid “useless” wars and win the “necessary” ones, “reset” America’s relations with Russia, and defeat terrorism.

Russia

Despite the warm ties between the US and Russia after 9/11, relations soured between the two countries towards the end of the Bush Administration. President Obama working with Secretary Clinton helped retune relations between the two nations in the hope that they could work together to resolve global issues. While Putin continued his autocratic measures in Russia, all was well between the two nations until the US intervention and support for the Ukrainian opposition. This was a great political faux pas. Since that period, the US and Russia have entered a new cold war. Almost in all conflict where their interests collide, the US and Russia find themselves supporting opposing sides. Despite the fail attempt to reset relations with Russia, tensions have become incensed due to the Obama Administration’s support of the opposition in the Ukrainian crisis. Russia will continue to be a thorn to American policymakers around the world in the upcoming decade.

Middle East

Despite dovish promises during his candidacy, President Obama has been more of a hawk in the Middle East than President Bush. There is no doubt that President Bush’s invasion opened Pandora’s Box of terror in the Middle East. While President Bush started the fire in the region, President Obama has doused it with gasoline. Unlike President Bush, the media has not covered President Obama’s adventurism policy in such detail. For whatever reason, the massive amount of protesters that continuously and justifiably heckled President Bush due to his failed policy appears to have disappeared for President Obama. One of the largest failures of President Obama’s tenure is his actions in the Middle East for the most part. Despite promising to rein in the wars, President Obama has inconspicuously expanded on all fronts.

Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, what was considered the “right war”, President Obama attempted to mimic the Iraqi-style surge to no avail. Today the Taliban are stronger than ever and controlling more territory. With Al Qaeda defeated and Osama Bin Laden dead thanks to President Obama, the objectives in Afghanistan is everything but clear. Despite promising to end the war by December of 2014, the US has continued on, making the Afghan campaign the longest war in US history and with no real resolution in the near future aside from withdrawal.

Iraq

Despite what presidential candidates claim now, President Bush had signed the status of agreement (SoFA), which had designated a withdrawal date from Iraq. President Obama attempted to renegotiate the terms of SoFA, but Prime Minister Maliki rejected any attempts of renegotiation. The biggest oversight under President Obama’s watch in Iraq has been ISIS. The neglect of ISIS’ threat has been a failure. Yet, President Obama managed no to hastily react and commit ground troops despite the overwhelming clamor by many to do so. In doing so, he has managed to prevent another quagmire in Iraq. Nevertheless, the future of Iraq appears to be bleak at best.

Syria

Syria will be forever immortalized as President Obama’s foreign policy bête-noire. As the region was caught up in the Arab Spring whirlwind, the Syrian dictatorial regime was another target. Unlike the other despotic regimes that fell, Assad resisted with the backing of Iran and Russia. This resistance led to a long drawn out civil war that is still raging on. In the midst of this civil war, ISIS pounced on the first chance they could to solidify their caliphate.

Syria represents a Great Game within a Great Game. It is the battleground for two proxy wars; a regional war between the Saudis and Iranians as well as the new cold war between the US and Russia. The US’s credibility as well as strategy in Syria is lost and not clear. Obama’s red line ended up being an empty threat and without Russian intervention, the Assad regime might still possess chemical weapons. While President Obama was aligned with neoconservative hawks to initiate an intervention in Syria, the overwhelming response of the public put a pause in his plans. Throughout the fiasco, President Obama has promised not to send in ground troops yet recently 250 ground troops are being sent to help “assist and train” rebels on top of the 50 currently there. Despite basing his initial presidential run against foreign intervention, President Obama has demonstrated he is more of a hawk than his predecessors.

Libya

The conflict in Libya was initially extensively covered but has become forgotten. Another Arab nation that was caught up in the Arab Spring fever received resounding European and American support to help topple the Gaddafi regime. Even though the US and EU were reconciling past differences with Gadaffi’s government, the uprising was the opportunity used by the administration to remove him. While Gaddafi was no pleasant figure, his threat to regional and global peace was non-existent after his rapprochement with the West. Yet utilizing a new strategy, President Obama led from behind and supported European efforts in removing the regime. Even though victory was achieved, it was short-lived. Similar to Iraq and Syria, tribal and local politics created a civil war that is raging on to this day with no resolution in sight. In the midst of this conflict, ISIS has managed to establish territorial holdings as well. Cloaking intervention in the name of humanitarian support, President Obama and Secretary Clinton created a disastrous environment in Libya today than prior to the intervention.

Drones and Guantanamo Bay

While campaigning, President Obama vowed that within his first year of office he would close the notorious detention center that had plagued US image abroad. Entering his final year of his second term, the prison is still open and operating with no closure date. While the numbers of detainees have been reduced, many in the prison have yet to know their fate. Recent reports have outlined that many imprisoned were captured by local militias in almost dubious circumstances and are innocent. As President Obama brings his tenure to an end, many will wonder if this will be another unfulfilled campaign promise.

A weapon occasionally employed by President Bush but fully embraced by President Obama, the drone program has become a lynchpin of Obama’s terrorism strategy even though it was intended to be a supplementary weapon to other tactics. Even though the program has been relatively inconspicuous, it has appeared that President Obama has geared the nation towards more autonomous forms of warfare. Aside from the ethical and moral questions involved in such a paradigm shift, the disproportionate killing of civilians by the drone strikes have created more terrorists than it has eliminated, rendering the program impractical. It is reported that 90% of those killed in these strikes tend to be civilians. Despite winning a Nobel Peace Prize and championing human rights, President Obama has done more to harm human rights than benefit it.

Economics

Based on what is published by government data and displayed by the stock market, one would think that the US is in a boom cycle yet economic sentiment resonates otherwise. The stock market is nearing an all-time high once again, the unemployment numbers are low, the US still appears to be relatively the most secure place to invest, so what is wrong? While the economic woes that still exist cannot solely be blamed on President Obama who inherited a near collapsing economy, his Keynesian approach has further enflamed the potential for failure. When President Bush came into office, he was about to endure the dotcom bubble that was due to occur as a result of the booming economy during Clinton’s administration. Knowing that it would be political catastrophe, President Bush and Alan Greenspan orchestrated the diversion of the bubble to the housing market. Even though 9/11 brought the markets down, the beginning of the housing boom by the government’s artificial intervention into that sector allowed for a new boom to enrich many. As President Bush’s term came to a near, so did the housing boom, which bubbled in his last year of office. As President Obama came into office, he had two choices; either let the bubble pop and discharge all foul economic players from the market, which would have led to a major recession if not depression, or intervene to put a bandage on the bubble to only grow worse and result in an economic crisis later. Allowing politics to come first, President Obama did what all Presidents have done and chose the latter.

In reality, the stock market has been buoyed up by government intervention via quantitative easing, interest rate reduction, etc., not actual market forces. The unemployment numbers do not reflect the actual number of those unemployed. Instead, the government’s statisticians are using numbers to mislead the public. They do not account for those who have stopped looking for work due to their inability to secure a job, but even worse many that have found a less paying job than a previous professional job are also considered employed. Many college graduates have gone from high paying professional jobs to lower paying jobs, yet this shift in the economy is not captured. In addition, a new study has found that more than half the country is on government assistance in one form or another. Despite the great and positive government data reflecting a strong economy, in reality, the fundamentals of the economy appear to be on the brink of another recession.

Conclusion

Although the legacy of any president cannot be captured in an article, the major issues of President’s Obama tenure have been discussed. While a candidate can never live up to all the promises they state during a campaign for a myriad of reasons, the principles they claim to guide them should always remain consistent. In this sense, President Obama has been inconsistent to the guiding principles he claimed to adhere to as a candidate compared to his actions as a president.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

Americas

Hardened US and Iranian positions question efficacy of parties’ negotiating tactics

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The United States and Iran seem to be hardening their positions in advance of a resumption of negotiations to revive a 2015 international nuclear agreement once Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in early August.

Concern among supporters of the agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program which former US President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018 may be premature but do raise questions about the efficacy of the negotiating tactics of both parties.

These tactics include the Biden administration’s framing of the negotiations exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than also as they relate to Iranian fears, a failure by both the United States and Iran to acknowledge that lifting sanctions is a complex process that needs to be taken into account in negotiations, and an Iranian refusal to clarify on what terms the Islamic republic may be willing to discuss non-nuclear issues once the nuclear agreement has been revived.

The differences in the negotiations between the United States and Iran are likely to be accentuated if and when the talks resume, particularly concerning the mechanics of lifting sanctions.

“The challenges facing the JCPOA negotiations are a really important example of how a failed experience of sanctions relief, as we had in Iran between the Obama and Trump admins, can cast a shadow over diplomacy for years to come, making it harder to secure US interests,” said Iran analyst Esfandyar Batmanghelidj referring to the nuclear accord, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its initials.

The Biden administration may be heeding Mr. Batmangheldij’s notion that crafting sanctions needs to take into account the fact that lifting them can be as difficult as imposing them as it considers more targeted additional punitive measures against Iran. Those measures would aim to hamper Iran’s evolving capabilities for precision strikes using drones and guided missiles by focusing on the providers of parts for those weapon systems, particularly engines and microelectronics.

To be sure, there is no discernable appetite in either Washington or Tehran to adjust negotiation tactics and amend their underlying assumptions. It would constitute a gargantuan, if not impossible challenge given the political environment in both capitals. That was reflected in recent days in Iranian and US statements.

Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested that agreement on the revival of the nuclear accord was stumbling over a US demand that it goes beyond the terms of the original accord by linking it to an Iranian willingness to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support for Arab proxies.

In a speech to the cabinet of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, he asserted that the West “will try to hit us everywhere they can and if they don’t hit us in some place, it’s because they can’t… On paper and in their promises, they say they’ll remove sanctions. But they haven’t lifted them and won’t lift them. They impose conditions…to say in future Iran violated the agreement and there is no agreement” if Iran refuses to discuss regional issues or ballistic missiles.

Iranian officials insist that nothing can be discussed at this stage but a return by both countries to the nuclear accord as is. Officials, distrustful of US intentions, have hinted that an unconditional and verified return to the status quo ante may help open the door to talks on missiles and proxies provided this would involve not only Iranian actions and programs but also those of America’s allies.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks seemed to bolster suggestions that once in office Mr. Raisi would seek to turn the table on the Biden administration by insisting on stricter verification and US implementation of its part of a revived agreement.

To achieve this, Iran is expected to demand the lifting of all rather than some sanctions imposed or extended by the Trump administration; verification of the lifting;  guarantees that the lifting of sanctions is irreversible, possibly by making any future American withdrawal from the deal contingent on approval by the United Nations Security Council; and iron-clad provisions to ensure that obstacles to Iranian trade are removed, including the country’s unfettered access to the international financial system and the country’s overseas accounts.

Mr. Khamenei’s remarks and Mr. Raisi’s anticipated harder line was echoed in warnings by US officials that the ascendancy of the new president would not get Iran a better deal. The officials cautioned further that there could be a point soon at which it would no longer be worth returning to because Iran’s nuclear program would have advanced to the point where the limitations imposed by the agreement wouldn’t produce the intended minimum one year ‘breakout time’ to produce enough enriched uranium for a bomb.

“We are committed to diplomacy, but this process cannot go on indefinitely. At some point, the gains achieved by the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) cannot be fully recovered by a return to the JCPOA if Iran continues the activities that it’s undertaken with regard to its nuclear program…The ball remains in Iran’s court, and we will see if they’re prepared to make the decisions necessary to come back into compliance,” US Secretary Antony Blinken said this week on a visit to Kuwait.

Another US official suggested that the United States and Iran could descend into a tug-of-war on who has the longer breath and who blinks first. It’s a war that so far has not produced expected results for the United States and in which Iran has paid a heavy price for standing its ground.

The official said that a breakdown in talks could “look a lot like the dual-track strategy of the past—sanctions pressure, other forms of pressure, and a persistent offer of negotiations. It will be a question of how long it takes the Iranians to come to the idea they will not wait us out.”

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Americas

Wendy Sherman’s China visit takes a terrible for the US turn

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Photo: Miller Center/ flickr

US Deputy Secretary of State, Wendy Sherman, had high hopes for the meeting in China. At first, the Chinese side did not agree to hold the meeting at all. The reaction had obvious reasons: Antony Blinken’s fiasco in Alaska left the Chinese disrespected and visibly irritated. This is not why they travelled all the way.

So then the State Department had the idea of sending Wendy Sherman instead. The US government actually needs China more than China needs the US. Sherman was in China to actually prepare the ground for Biden and a meeting between the two presidents, expecting a red carpet roll for Biden as if it’s still the 2000s — the time when it didn’t matter how the US behaved. Things did not go as expected.

Instead of red carpet talk, Sherman heard Dua Lipa’s “I got new rules”. 

That’s right — the Chinese side outlined three bottom lines warning the US to respect its system, development and sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, China wants to be left alone.

The bottom lines were not phrased as red lines. This was not a military conflict warning. This was China’s message that if any future dialogue was to take place, China needs to be left alone. China accused the US of creating an “imaginary enemy”. I have written about it before — the US is looking for a new Cold War but it doesn’t know how to start and the problem is that the other side actually holds all the cards

That’s why the US relies on good old militarism with an expansion into the Indo-Pacific, while aligning everyone against China but expecting the red carpet and wanting all else in the financial and economic domains to stay the same. The problem is that the US can no longer sell this because there are no buyers. Europeans also don’t want to play along.

The headlines on the meeting in the US press are less flattering than usual. If the US is serious about China policy it has to be prepared to listen to much more of that in the future. And perhaps to, yes, sit down and be humble.

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Americas

Why Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer

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When Sarah Huckabee Sanders showed up on the scene as White House Press Secretary, the reaction was that of relief. Finally — someone civil, normal, friendly. Jen Psaki’s entry this year was something similar. People were ready for someone well-spoken, well-mannered, even friendly as a much welcome change from the string of liars, brutes or simply disoriented people that the Trump Administration seemed to be lining up the press and communications team with on a rolling basis. After all, if the face of the White House couldn’t keep it together for at least five minutes in public, what did that say about the overall state of the White House behind the scenes?

But Psaki’s style is not what the American media and public perceive it to be. Her style is almost undetectable to the general American public to the point that it could look friendly and honest to the untrained eye or ear. Diplomatic or international organization circles are perhaps better suited to catch what’s behind the general mannerism. Jen Psaki is a well-masked Sean Spicer, but a Sean Spicer nevertheless. I actually think she will do much better than him in Dancing With The Stars. No, in fact, she will be fabulous at Dancing With The Stars once she gets replaced as White House Press Secretary.

So let’s take a closer look. I think what remains undetected by the general American media is veiled aggression and can easily pass as friendliness. Psaki recently asked a reporter who was inquiring about the Covid statistics at the White House why the reporter needed that information because Psaki simply didn’t have that. Behind the brisk tone was another undertone: the White House can’t be questioned, we are off limits. But it is not and that’s the point. 

Earlier, right at the beginning in January, Psaki initially gave a pass to a member of her team when the Politico stunner reporter story broke out. The reporter was questioning conflict of interest matters, while the White House “stud” was convinced it was because he just didn’t chose her, cursing her and threatening her. Psaki sent him on holidays. Nothing to see here folks, move along.

Psaki has a level of aggression that’s above average, yet she comes across as one of the most measured and reasonable White House Press Secretaries of the decade. And that’s under pressure. But being able to mask that level of deflection is actually not good for the media because the media wants answers. Style shouldn’t (excuse the pun) trump answers. And being able to get away smoothly with it doesn’t actually serve the public well. Like that time she just walked away like it’s not a big deal. It’s the style of “as long as I say thank you or excuse me politely anything goes”. But it doesn’t. And the American public will need answers to some questions very soon. Psaki won’t be able to deliver that and it would be a shame to give her a pass just because of style.

I think it’s time that we start seeing Psaki as a veiled Sean Spicer. And that Dancing with the Stars show — I hope that will still run despite Covid.

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