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Dublin Opinion >>
Obama: A Presidency of Hope or Failure?
Wednesday December 09, 2009 15:05 by Gerard Horgan - Freelance
A critique of the Obama Presidency
Obama - Hope, No!
A critique of the Obama Presidency from taking office in January of this year to now.
Criticism of the Obama Administration in the United States (and around the world) is more noticeable as is the slide in the opinion polls for the young president. This may seem predictable given the unrealistic levels of global expectation that accompanied him as he swept into the Oval office with the words ‘hope and change’ ringing around America. However, just over nine months on, commentators and supporters alike are disappointed at Obama’s apparent inability to deliver on his campaign promises. The polemicist, Gore Vidal, in several recent interviews went as far as to say that Obama will be a ‘one term President’ who is ‘completely overwhelmed’ by the challenges that confront him.
This unease and anger seem to galvanise after the Administration’s decision to bailout the major US banks and financial institutions in the form of a ‘stimulus’ package, which is pushing close to $1 trillion dollars. The Nobel Prize winning economist, Professor Joseph Stiglitz, commented on RTE’s Primetime programme that this amounted to a massive “theft of the American taxpayer”. The ill feeling surrounding this package intensified when it was revealed that part of this enormous sum of money was used to pay the annual bonuses of senior banking executives who had largely caused the crisis. This was against a backdrop of economic decline with millions of Americans losing their jobs, millions more facing home foreclosure while the dispossessed are filling the growing number of tent cities which are becoming an increasing feature on the outskirts of major American cities.
Some time back, the popular political satire show, Saturday Night Live, ran a sketch of President Obama, which focused not on his idiosyncrasies but on his policy failures. In the ‘Obama checklist’, the skit highlighted his failure to close Guantanamo Bay, withdraw US military forces from Iraq, ameliorate the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, introduce comprehensive health care and immigration reform, present long overdue climate change legislation and tackle the Israel-Palestine imbroglio.
Humour aside, Saturday Night Live, highlighted the very real issues at the heart of the Obama presidency and the perception that both he and his administration are floundering in the face of the multiple crises that have arisen in the past 12 months.
The war in Afghanistan, increasingly characterised as ‘Obama’s War’, is in serious trouble with the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, warning of ‘mission failure’. NATO forces have a tenuous grip on Kabul, the precariousness of which is highlighted by suicide bombers who are able to penetrate the centres of government and administration with relative ease and alarming frequency. Reports indicate that large swathes of the countryside are controlled by the Taliban despite assurances from Washington and London that the war is not lost. The recent elections were a fiasco with widespread voting irregularities and accusations of corruption undermined what little remained of Harmid Karzai's legitimacy.
President Obama’s decision to commit 30,000 additional US troops to Afghanistan (with additional troops from several NATO countries) is, according to the White House, an effort to create ‘stability’ and increase the training of Afghan forces (25% who reportedly ‘walk away’) so that these forces can ‘step-up’ as NATO forces ‘step-down’. Curiously, Obama announced that the withdrawal of US forces is penned in for mid 2011 – why this was flagged in such a public manner is unclear as all the Taliban have to do (in fact all they ever had to do) is to sit tight and wait – such a seemingly fixed deadline may come back to haunt the administration. Obama is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place - an escalation of forces could prove highly costly politically and in terms of human life while a complete pull out of NATO forces is sure to see the immediate implosion of the corrupt and discredited Karzai regime. The quagmire that is Afghanistan may consume Obama’s first, and if we are to believe Vidal, only term, while other issues such as health care and climate change will undoubtedly suffer.
In Iraq, the situation is hardly much better. Obama’s promise to draw down troop levels in that volatile country seem hollow in light of the 'super-bases' being constructed outside Baghdad for the estimated 80,000 US troops who may remain on after an ‘orderly withdrawal’ – an Orwellian phrase if ever there was one. Other promises such as brokering peace between Israel and Palestine and reaching out to Latin America leaders have all been dashed against the demands of US global hegemony. Indeed, Obama’s recent unsuccessful trip to Copenhagen to secure the Olympic Games for Chicago has called into question his judgement - a trip one senses President Clinton would never had made.
Domestically, President Obama is facing growing resistance from within his own party. Congressman Dennis Kucinich in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now highlighted the growing exasperation with the seemingly unending foreign commitments and the consequences for the home front:
“You would think that we don’t have enough to do here at home. You would think that we don’t have 47 million Americans who go to bed hungry, 47 million Americans who don’t have any health care, 15 million Americans who are out of work, another 10 million Americans whose homes are threatened with foreclosure, people going bankrupt, and business failures. All these things are happening in our country and we’re acting like a latter-day version of the Roman Empire, reaching for empire while inside we rot.”
Kucinich went on to touch on one of the major issues facing the US economy – the level of indebtedness, which currently stands at approximately $13 trillion dollars:
“We are borrowing money right now to be able to prosecute wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States is going deeper and deeper into debt. We borrowed money or printed money as the Fed may have it, to help finance $13 trillion dollars in bailouts for Wall Street. You know, we have money for Wall Street and money for war, but we don’t have money for work. We have money for Wall Street and money for war, but we don’t have money for health care. We have to start asking ourselves, why is it that war is a priority, but the basic needs of the people of this country are not? And how are we getting the money to pay for the war?
We’re borrowing it. We’re going deeper into debt. We’re mortgaging our future. We’re creating conditions where we will become less democratic because we can’t meet the most essential needs of our people. This needs to be challenged. And it needs to be challenged in a forthright way. It can be challenged without making President Obama the issue. The issue is the war; the issue is America’s reach for empire. The issue is our inability to meet the needs of people here at home.”
In University College Cork recently, Kevin Sullivan, former speech writer for the Clinton Administration said that: “Americans still don’t know what kind of President Barack Obama is, he hasn’t played his cards yet”, however such statements seem hardly credible in light of Obama’s ‘blank cheque’ support for Wall Street, the continued missile strikes in northern Pakistan (which is creating greater instability in a country that is in real danger of reaching ‘failed nuclear state’ status), the floundering of the Afghan misadventure and his failure to protect the many millions of Americans who once chanted the old Latin American Union slogan: ‘Si, Se Peude!’ or ‘Yes we can!’, and who have painfully discovered that 'No, they can't'.
It would seem that ‘Brand Obama’, that creation of the advertising industry during the 2008 presidential election, is slowly unravelling to reveal an inexperienced politician, beset by crises that seem destined to doom his presidency before it has begun.