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Obama: Desperately seeking legacy. Obama: Desperately seeking legacy.
by Murray Hunter
2012-12-12 10:30:17
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Barak Hussein Obama began his first days in office as the 44th President of the United States issuing executive orders to direct the US military to begin formulating plans to withdraw troops from Iraq, ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay detention camp and revoked President Bush's prohibition of federal aid to international family planning organizations.

One could speculate that what Obama did in those first few days of office was enough to earn him the Nobel Peace Prize, as nominations to the 2008 Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee closed just 8 days after Obama took office.

Obama's first days all seemed consistent with the arrival of the "messiah" who carried the hopes and dreams of not only the American people, but those of the rest of the world, in a bid to banish the unpleasant memories and dark deeds of his predecessor.

Although Obama worked hard to implement a number of domestic policy pledges like re-establishing embryonic stem cell research grants, proposed new regulations to regulate greenhouse gases, expanded hate crime laws, introduced the "don't ask don't tell" policy for gays in the armed services, passed and enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and appointed two female Supreme Court Judges, one being Hispanic; these measures have fallen short of creating any lasting legacy to date.  

But the first cracks in the shiny silver armor of this angel from heaven  surfaced before his election in 2008. Obama supported the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act 2008 creating a $700 Billion fund to bail out the financial industry. Although both the Congress and Senate had many reservations and many sections of the public were suspicious of a bill bailing out the very people who were seen as partly responsible for the financial crisis, Obama in a rush to be seen as doing the right thing to save the financial system, personally put the bill under little scrutiny, opting to publicly support it in the name of preventing a financial meltdown and severe economic depression.

Although Obama espoused the needs of Main Street over Wall Street, rhetoric well received during by the electorate during the campaign, his action supported Wall Street and big business. Soon after taking presidential office the automobile manufacturers who flew into Washington Congressional hearings on private jets were also given a bailout.

During Obama's first term the great opportunity to clip the wings of the financial institutions, seen by many to be the culprit of 2008, and a law unto themselves, was squandered through lack of will and action on Obama's part. He would have had the people behind him which would have put great pressure on Congress to act, but chose the easy way out. Instead the likes of Goldman Sachs got tapped lightly on the fingers with fines easily affordable for the financial giant.

Although Obama pulled troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan seems to be a stalemate, not un-similar to the position of the Soviets in the 1980s in the same theatre of war. Obama has actually increased troop numbers rather than reduce them. The quandary Obama faces is when US and NATO troops leave Afghanistan as planned in 2014 is - how long will it take the Taliban to retake control of the country again? The Taliban retake, if it happens on the Obama watch will highlight a military and foreign policy failure which the current president will have to wear.

With the changing nature of battle and public criticism of US troop casualties, new technologies available have allowed the pursuit of a more painless way of taking military action as far as the public is concerned through the use of drones. Drones have become Obama's weapon of choice. Easy, convenient, secret, and cheap.

However drones have created another crack in Obama's shinny armor. Although drones enable one side to take action in remote and inaccessible locations in a surgical manner, the drawback is that it is against "international law" and amounts to nothing more than illegal assassination, especially when these drones are operated outside theatres of war. Obama appears to have contributed to the creation of a world where state assassination of people, even their own citizens without trial is acceptable. Last year the Obama administration deployed a drone to kill one of its own citizens Anwar al-Awlaki without any trial whatsoever. Obama's name and signature are on these executive actions and history will never erase them. The only thing we don't know is the extent that Obama has used this weapon. US foreign policy has returned to the days were the CIA has almost free reign to assassinate any "target" in secrecy.

Obama has proved to be a willing Commander in Chief of the Armed forces presiding over a new era of warfare and taking it to a new level.

The raid on the alleged Osama Bin laden in Pakistan also had no legal basis, other than being an 'act of might'. We must actually take the word of the US that it was actually Osama Bin Laden who was assassinated. This Obama claimed as one of the accomplishments of his first term, ironically basking in the shadows of his predecessor George W. Bush. In fact his acceptance speech for the Nobel peace Prize in 2009 was about justifying war for peaceful purposes could not have been better written by a Bush speech writer.

The only apparent difference in the Bush and Obama narrative is the finesse that Obama can put to what he says.

Obama's military actions to date have seemed to be more in common with the "Bush-Cheney" doctrines of the last administration rather than the hope and anticipation of change that accompanied Obama to the presidency.

But Obama was determined to break new ground (or sink to new lows) in human rights. On any standards the treatment of Bradley Manning by the military under the Obama administration is a disgrace, especially for a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. Manning spends 23 1/2 hours a day in solitary confinement in an 8x8ft cell. Manning gets 20 minutes of sunshine in chains each day.

These conditions represent borderline tortuous measures that have been condemned by a formal UN investigation as "cruel and inhuman" and by Obama's own former State Department spokesmen retired air force colonel P.J. Crowley who resigned over this matter. During Manning's court marshal, a prison psychologist testified that the conditions under which he is held were more damaging than those found on death row, or at Guantanamo Bay.

To add insensitivity to the matter now being processed by the military tribunal, the Commander in Chief has already publicly decreed that Manning is guilty of breaking the law, a very naive comment for a President of the United States who is a trained lawyer.

Obama also used the financial system to destroy Julian Assange's  WikiLeaks by asking the banks to withdraw credit card facilities so donations to WikiLeaks  could not be collected. Julian Assange is confined to a two bedroom apartment in London used as the Ecuadorian Embassy with diplomatic asylum fighting extradition to Sweden, where he fears being handed over to US authorities to face a similar fate as Bradley Manning.  

The Presidential candidate in the 2008 election for "change" certainly did change to become a representative of the establishment supporting both the Pentagon and large financial institutions of America. Obama arrived in Washington to compromise, but found he was the one who had to compromise with the establishment to survive.

Now we are approaching the eve of the second term. Usually a term where US Presidents are able to create their legacy.

So if the 44th President of the United States is going to have a legacy where might it come from?

Obama is only the second president to win two terms with the majority of the popular vote. On election night Obama told his supporters that they "voted for action, not politics as usual", and again talking of consensus which to date has totally eluded him.

US influence in the Middle East through the Arab Spring and subsequent events has been limited. New funds for overseas military operations due to the mammoth costs of Iraq would be impossible to get through the Congress today so Obama can only act with limited options. In addition, those falling dictators like Mubarak in Egypt who were old allies to the United States are being replaced by new leaders like Mohammed Morsi, whose real loyalties are still really unknown quantities.

Add in the unpredictable volatility of the region where we saw Egyptian President Morsi help broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, winning international acclaim, only to lose it through giving himself sweeping new powers a day later, bringing mass demonstrations to Cairo and military action on the streets to quell the opposition. Only a week after his diplomatic victory in Gaza his future hangs in the balance. Morsi's coup in achieving an apparently holding ceasefire could have greatly eroded US prestige if it wasn't for Morsi stabbing himself with his proclamation of increased powers.

Given Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's stubbiness and unwillingness to take counsel from the US and the division between Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, it seems very remote that any peace agreement can be brokered during Obama's second term, unless something really dramatic happens, which is unforeseeable at the time of writing.

This is not to mention the disaster of intelligence, or lack of it in Benghazi where the US Consulate was overrun and US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other members of his diplomatic mission were lynched by the mob without any retaliation by the US to date.

It's extremely difficult it is for the US to work in the Middle East today.

In a very recent vote in the United Nations on giving Palestine observer status, the US and a small number of its allies strongly objected through voting no.  These actions are doing nothing to enhance the US position in the Middle East and give the impression that the US is blindly pro-Israeli in its foreign policy stance. Hardly a position that will aid in creating any environment where the US may be able to play a major role in any future peace process.

Syria continues without an end-game in-sight and the US is in the position of having very little  influence with any of the players  in this conflict. The US has little influence upon the outcome and must learn how to react rather than be proactive in the region. China's diplomacy within the region is influential, as can be Russia's, so in conflicts where brute military force cannot solve, the US has an extremely complicated and competitive environment to work within. It looks like the US is struggling to rid itself of the static view it has of the region.

In Asia as well, Obama's recent visit to Cambodia showed he isn't the only boy on the block and was humiliated by the way Hun Sen organized protocols. A welcome sign did not greet Obama upon his arrival at Phnom Phenh Airport, rather the area was strewn with welcoming signs for visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

This actually weakened Obama's prestige in the region, showing the new realities for the US, where ironically very few commentators picked up on this. Obama was played off against the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao who was also visiting the East Asia Summit, showing the world that Obama was powerless and could do nothing but take this second place. This humiliation from a veteran in the region is metaphoric of The Mouse that Roared. All this symbolically in front of the great Presidential icon Air Force One.

Obama is also on public record calling for integration of all peoples in Burma, a particular reference to the Rohingya people. Obama is taking a big risk here that his visit may come back to haunt him if the Burmese Government continues to take harsh action upon the Rohingya.

The days of SEATO (South-East Asia Treaty Alliance) mentality to handle the disputed South China Sea territories are long gone with too many other grouping proposals on the table up for consideration. South-East Asia is now a complex malaise of countries that don't think in the American black/white colour scheme anymore. Obama's failure to reflect on the US involvement in the bombing of Cambodia in the 1960s and 70s could be indicative of US lack of any sense of history of the region.

A new more dynamic schema is needed by the Obama advisors to engage the region with any true meaningfulness.

The rest of the world is full of potential mine fields and potential flash points like North Korea, where Obama will need more skill than he has shown to date to handle, especially if a crisis develops.

So far the administration has been often caught speechless when crises arise as the cabinet and close advisors try to find a position and strategy on each matter. This initial silence to arising world events signals the complexity the Obama administration faces in a world they can no longer dominate.

Reforming the world financial system, no. Peace in the Middle East, no. An end-game in Syria, no. Human rights and dignity, no, not this president. On human rights, Obama's actions are far from the spirit and doctrines of Martin Luther King.

With the numbers in both houses of Congress the way they are, there is an inability to implement any visionary domestic agenda. Just look at the current haggling on tax measures between the President and Congress.

Perhaps the best place where Obama can develop a legacy is to follow the footsteps of the former President Nixon. The legacy that Obama can carve out for his administration is developing a collaborative working relationship with China, which ironically a large proportion of US big business seek, as this is in corporate America's best interests.

Divide up and conquer strategies don't work anymore. It's going to be about finding common ground and mutual interests in each region of the world, where cooperation and collaboration results from dialogue. This could be the soundest strategy to bring lasting peace, prosperity and an Obama legacy.

Cooperation with China will balance the world order at bargain basement prices which could bring a dividend of new levels of prosperity and a new age of global relations. Where Obama has failed with the Congress he could triumph within the Great Hall of the People.

However does Obama have the wisdom to see this?

On a final note most often US presidencies are shaped on external events such as the great depression, World War II, the Cuban crisis, Vietnam War, the Iranian hostage crisis, fall of the Soviet Union, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and 9/11, etc. Legacies need definitive action develop and be remembered. So Obama's opportunity for legacy maybe something nobody foresees today.

To date the Obama phenomena has been more hype than substance. The Obama Presidency is more symbolic for the values that the constitution of the United States stands for rather than any pivot towards any substantial changes in society.

Due to various reasons the President has not displayed the signs of being that sort of special leader that comes along every couple of generations or so. Domestically, record debt and unemployment on his watch will not endear many towards him as he is yet to find the answers and ease the everyday problems the person in the street is suffering from.

However with the record of service rendered to date the final question is how would a President Obama be able to handle any real crisis? Obama's biggest test may yet be still ahead of him.


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Thanos2012-12-12 11:20:30
Murray, after the second elections I have the feeling that this “change and hope expectancy” will be Obama’s legacy. Of course it is not his fault but in his face all the world projected all their hopes in dispirit times. Sometimes I think what would have been for example with JFK’s legacy if he hadn’t been assassinated? Would have been the disaster of Vietnam War?

Then in Obama’s case we have something else. The change he did for the national health care – and monopolizes most of his first term - is something so internal that the rest of the world cannot see it and the same time something the Americans will understand probably after twenty years. The changes he did about the health care are monumental and they serve most of the people in America, oddly the same ones who don’t vote and most of the time without voice but this is a different story but outside the American boarders has no impact since most of us in Europe or Australia think of it as the state’s obligation.

And yes the Nobel Prize was the proof on how much we all “invested” in one man who’s after all the president of one country doesn’t matter how powerful this country is, without even caring what he thought. I mean it is natural for him to try to do something for his country first before saving the rest of us and in his way he did so.

Murray Hunter2012-12-12 11:41:11
Yes you are right. Nixon is now being remembered for his dialogue with China and Reagan, who many liked to ridicule as a war monger now has a leagacy as being one of the most successful peace Presidents. Time and incubation is an important factor which is not easy to judge.

Thanos2012-12-12 11:52:29
And don’t forget Reagan. Sometimes I feel like screaming hearing people talking about Reagan’s peace affords and this is the man we thought he will start WWIII at the time.

Thanos2012-12-12 11:55:45
But the same time I remember the same build up – like Obama – before Carter was elected. Greece that time was coming out of the dictatorship with a lot of open wounds and the Greek people were expecting Carter to come and help immediately. Even mainstream newspapers at the time in Athens had titles like Carter was going to be the president of Greece and not of USA

Murray Hunter2012-12-12 12:10:26
They say carter was probably the most intellectually clever presidents of the modern era, but potrayed as a peanut farmer. He personally put everything on the line for the Israeli peace accord, but the Iranian hostage cris destroyed him. Ironically they released the hostages just an hour after reagan was sworn in.
Reagan??? Reaganism after 2008 how should we look at his legacy. Should it be looked at situationaly or should we claim that deregulation was one of the primary causes to what happened in 2008.
Last night I was just thinking: in 1916 some Australian women gave men who didnt enlist to go and fight in WWI a white feather. At the time it was considered a patriotic thing to do. However if we judge the white feather movement on today's standards and history of women's emancipation was it the women who were also excaping their responsibilities. History and time change our perceptions and legacies.

Emanuel Paparella2012-12-12 13:24:05
Professor Hunter, indeed, I think we can all agree that if there is greatness in President Barack Obama, it remains incomplete as of now. Time will tell, exactly what his ultimate legacy will be. But before rushing to judgment a bit prematurely, as was done by Republicans in the Presidential campaign, and in the interest of fairness and balance, it may also be a good idea to mention some of his acknowledged accomplishments. Your list appears rather heavy on criticism but quite light on accomplishments.

Thanos has mentioned what is probably the greatest accomplishment of President Obama right now (which may well define his legacy), the Health Care Reform. I concur. But there are various other accomplishements. I submit that those alone would have made the first four years of Obama's presidency worth while.

Let me mention her some of those accomplishment. It should be mentioned that the list does not take into account Obama's accomplishment as father, husband, son in law, brother.

Here is the list: The stimulus of $ 787 billion which stopped the loss of 750 thousand loss of jobs per month in 2009 creating 3.7 million new private-sector jobs, passed the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010, ended the War in Iraq on December 18, 2011, began drawdown of War in Afghanistan, brought Osama bin Laden to justice, turned around the US auto industry injecting $ 62 billion in federal money into an ailing GM and Chrisler adding 100,000 jobs, recapitalized the banks with zero cost to the government, repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, Toppled Moammar Gaddafi by joining a coalition of European and Arab governments in military action with no American lives lost, told Mubarak to go on February 1, 2011, reversed Bush’s torture policies, improved America’s image abroad increasing favorable opinion by 26% as per Pew Global Attitudes Project, kicked banks out of the Federal Student Loan Program, expanded Pell Grant spending and created Race to the Top with a $4.3 billion grant program for education, boosted fuel efficiency standards which will double the fuel economy for cars and trucks by 2025, coordinated International response to Financial Crisis securing $500 billion for the IMF for emerging market countries, passed mini stimulus cutting payroll taxes to help unemployed and families hurt by the recession, began Asia pivot focusing on the Asian-Pacific region, increased support for Veterans by 10% and offering $78 billion in tuition assistance for veterans and encourage businesses to hire veterans, tightened sanctions on Iran with Japan, South Korea and China shifting their oil purchases away from Iran, created conditions to begin closing dirtiest power plants reducing carbon emissions with an estimated health benefit of $140 billion, passed credit card reforms as the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act, eliminated Catch-22 in Pay Equality Laws signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for equal pay for equal work for women, protected two liberal seats on the US Supreme Court nominating Soniaa Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, improved safety system signing the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act busting the FDA by 1.4 billion, achieved new START treaty with Russia, expanded national service via Serve America Act tripling the size of AmeriCorps and increasing it by 85,000 members, expanded wilderness and watershed protection signing the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, gave the FDA power to regulate tobacco, pushed Federal Agencies to be green leaders via an executive order requiring federal agencies to make plans to soften their environmental impact, passed Fair Sentencing Act reducing sentencing disparity, trimmed and reoriented missile defense saving $1.4 billion, began post-post-9/11 military builddown, let the bloated space shuttle and moon base end as dangerous and expensive in favor of private-sector low-earth orbit ventures and research on new rocket technologies for long-distance manned flight missions, invested heavily in renewable technology to the tune of $90 billion and more than any other previous administration, crafter next-generation school tests devoting to it $330 million stimulus money, cracked down on bad for-profit colleges, improved school nutrition mandating $4.5 billion spending boost, expanded hate crime protection via the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, avoided scandal of any sort serving longer than any president in decades without a scandal, brokered agreement for speedy compensation to victims of Gulf oil spill forcing BP to a $20 billion compensation fund, created recovery.gov as a web site run by independent board of inspectors general looking for fraud and abuse in stimulus spending providing transparency in all levels of government, pushed broadband coverage via the Federal Communications Commission with $8 billion in subsidies away for landlines and toward broadband Internet for lower-income rural families, expanded health coverage for 4 million more children via Children’s Health Insurance Authorization Act, recognized the dangers of carbon dioxide having the EPA declare it a pollutant, expanded stem cell research, provided payment to wronged minority farmers via the Claims Resolution Act providing $4.6 billion for a legal settlement with black and Native American farmers, helped South Sudan declare independence, terminated the F-22 fighter aircraft costing $358 million apiece and had never flown a single combat mission thus saving $4 billion.

Murray Hunter2012-12-12 13:33:00
To date the real legacy of Obama is to turn the myth that anyone could become the President of the United States into living reality. A black man as presient sort of cleanses the American psych of all the wrong doings over the last century. "No need to feel guilty now" a black has been president and commander in chief.

Ovi editorial team2012-12-12 14:49:32
Moderating the comments has its dark side, the comments appear after a while and sometimes even though they seem to follow each other – at least the time they were entered – it doesn’t necessarily means that they answer to each other.

Emanuel Paparella2012-12-12 16:55:25
This comment and observation meant as a dialogue and exchange of views, in Ovi’s established tradition, follows the one by Professor Hunter (7th sequentially) concerning the dispelled "myth" and guilt in America now that a black president has been elected.

Of course the fact that he happens to be black says nothing about his competency or incompetency and cannot even be considered a factor in his character or a virtue. I think we agree on that professor, or I am wrong in this?

But there is another glaring myth (understood in its negative connotation, because there is also a more proper and positive humanistic connotation to myth…but that’s another story) that still needs to be dispelled in America and every other country with minorities or native populations, and it is this: that an aboriginal native or an immigrant or an ethnic minority member, not only can become president but can do much better as a president than somebody from the predominant ruling group. Since we have been comparing presidents in the comment section above, it perhaps behooves us to consider in the light of the impressive list of significant achievement of President Obama in four years submitted that it easily dwarfs the accomplishments of his predecessor in eight years, the one who was caught at Yale University commenting on the fact that he had never read a book from cover to cover and he was descendant from fine English stock. Of course the fine English stock has no bearing on his character but the reluctance to read from cover to cover did. But some “myths” of course die hard.

Emanuel Paparella2012-12-12 17:06:23
P.S. Errata: there is a syntactical error in the above comment just submitted: the section “not only can become president but can do much better than somebody from…” should be read as a negative: “…. can become president but cannot do much better than somebody…”

Murray Hunter2012-12-12 17:26:14
These are just opinions of some writier in the Washington monthly who appears to have written an article to meet a deadline
brought Osama bin Laden to justice - Really what sort of justice was that?
turned around the US auto industry injecting $ 62 billion in federal money into an ailing GM and Chrisler - thats an opinion not an accomplishment many people were critical
reversed Bush’s torture policies - What reality are you in Sir?
began Asia pivot focusing on the Asian-Pacific region - what was achieved Sir?
Im too sickened to go through the rest of the list.
Please read through things before you cut and paste http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/march_april_2012/features/obamas_top_50_accomplishments035755.php?page=3
Your opinions are valued not others.

Thanos2012-12-12 18:23:48
I think that despite all disappointments we can give him another four years – hoping that he will manage to escape from lobbies and the Washington agendas – to prove himself and built something hopeful for all of us.

Emanuel Paparella2012-12-12 19:29:11
Indeed Thanos, a few weeks ago we really had no other choice than choosing between Obama and Romney and the choice was crystal clear at least to the majority of the people who bothered to vote since it was the same choice as between night and day.

Professor Hunter, the 50 or so accomplishments listed in my comment were indeed cut and pasted; they were certainly not invented creatively or culled out of the blue sky and presented as mine. As such, i.e., as empirical facts that they are there was no need to ascribe authorship to them; they are not views and opinions but facts which can easily be checked by all those of a positivistic mind-set who consider themselves hard-nosed pragmatists and empiricists or historians.

My personal views of both Obama and Bush 2 remains unaltered however. I need many more hard nosed unbiased empirical facts to even consider changing them. I suspect that the majority of people who re-elected President Obama would also demand that much.

Eleana Winter-Irving2012-12-13 01:42:03
Had Al Gore been elected, (as he should have been, considering he won the popular vote) and George W Bush not had a second term, (as many foreigners had wished for) then the whole American saga would be very, very different right now, even with Barack Obama as President. Has anyone considered the total mess Bush jnr. left America in when his presidency ended?

Barack Obama has not only had the job of governing a large country, but he also has had the job of cleaning up a huge failure of leadership his predecessor left for him. The GFC started under GW Bush’s watch, not Barack Obama’s. The Arab Spring started under Barack Obama’s presidency and he had hugely responsible decisions to make regarding, not just Iraq, (which he had already decided on) but other countries were thrown into the mix, such as Libya and to an extent Egypt as the US gives billions in aid to Egypt. Has anyone taken into account the trillions of $$ that were expended on Iraq over that past decade that Bush wasted? Was/is the final outcome worth the expenditure? To just pull out in one fell sweep would not be prudent, considering the total mess the country (Iraq) was in at the time Obama was first elected.

It is my humble opinion that Barack Obama is doing the best job under very difficult circumstances. However, that does not mean I approve of everything he has chosen to do. I am very much against the use of drones, the flying of them into countries without authorisation and the discriminate killing and consequent collateral damage that goes with it. The killing of Osama bin Laden was, in my opinion a trophy killing to boost his chances at re-election. This will have spiritual consequences. There are many other things I disapprove of concerning Obama, which no one has mentioned, such as ‘ 3 strikes and you’re out’.

I think you will find that the serious thinker will always find fault with any and every Head of State, as no one ever gets it all right.

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