When Barack Obama arrived on the global political scene, the world stood up and paid attention in ways far greater than they had done to Jesse Jackson. Obama represented a new and exciting politics that was not race centred or steeped in the civil rights movement. Neutrals were probably a little upset with him for not “waiting his turn” and allowing Hillary Clinton safe passage to the White House as America’s first woman President. After all, he was not that well known outside the USA. Given the history of that country dating back to slavery though, it was only a matter of time before the world was willing this handsome young black man to a historical victory, not only because of what that might represent symbolically but also because of what he promised; a superpower that would be different from the one led by the neoconservatives for the previous 8 years.
The world wanted less arrogance, less unilateral decisions and less bullying.
CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN
Any politician who keeps upward of 50% of their promises has to be admired. One of the political fact-checking organisations in the US, PolitiFact, reports that Obama “has fulfilled or made substantial progress on 72% of the 508 promises he made when he ran for president in 2008.” According to them, “the ongoing project by the Tampa Bay Times‘ fact-checking website reveals that Obama has achieved 47% of his promises, earning a rating of Promise Kept. Another 25% were partially fulfilled, earning a rating of Compromise. ‘Obama fared best in the areas of education and health care. He kept 54% of his education promises and 48% on health care. Most of those were muscled through Congress with the economic stimulus and health care law, which passed when Democrats controlled the House and Senate in the first half of Obama’s term.
One of those promises was to end the war in Iraq, an issue that dominated the 2008 campaign and had the world listening with rapt attention. For an overseas audience, the keeping of the promise to end the Iraq war was a welcome move and highly commended even though Iraq remains a tragic mess as a direct result of the Neoconservatives’ trio of Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld’s decision to illegally invade that country. Obama does not shirk from the duty that requires him to come to the aid of besieged civilian populations as he demonstrated in Libya and that too is commendable.
While we abhor torture and illegal detention we also understand why Obama has been unable to close Guantanamo Bay given the lack of support from federal governments in a federalist state.
Obama care is really none of our business but for a President to successfully push through legislation where many an American President has failed is remarkable and we duly take our hats off to him.
JUST ANOTHER AMERICAN PRESIDENT
The United States of America has its fair share of jealous countries gazing at this nation of people who wonder how they did it to get to where they are. However during the neoconservative presidency of Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld, one is hard pressed to find anyone outside the US who was not genuinely appalled by American arrogance and imperialism. The Panama and Grenada invasions show that invading countries was nothing new for the US. With Iraq, however, the neoconservatives took war mongering, bullying and premeditated murder to a new level. So when Barack Obama burst on to the world scene promising a new beginning in the relationship between the superpower and the rest of the world, everyone including the French, sat up and listened in expectation. Even the Nobel Peace Prize committee offered an early settlement discount to this refreshing young man on an incredible journey. When Germany’s Stern magazine, prior to his Berlin appearance and with eye brow arched, asked “saviour or demagogue” we brushed aside their concerns in the biggest wave of euphoria ever seen on a global scale for politicians who normally are loved as much as lawyers.
Eventually, the young, handsome and undoubtedly intelligent black man ascended to the highest office in the land of the country that had abolished slavery a mere 143 years prior. It was a remarkable feat but we are neither discussing the man’s race nor his brilliant election campaign.
In 2008 Barack Obama, the candidate, got the loudest applause in Berlin according to the UK Guardian when he “offered himself as the coming antidote to all that Germans, Europeans, indeed most non-Americans, had disliked about the Bush era. After listing a series of global problems, from genocide in Darfur to loose nukes, he declared: “No one nation, no matter how large or how powerful, can defeat such challenges alone.” It was a promise to end the unilateralism of the early Bush years, and the crowd could not contain their delight. Again and again he uttered sentences that could never have come from the mouth of George W Bush, and Berlin could not have been more grateful. In Egypt, and firmly facing the Middle East, the new President Obama said he sought a fresh relationship “based upon mutual interest and mutual respect” and “based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition.”
Echoing a Cold War-era speech by President Kennedy, Obama noted that “the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.”
“Violence is a dead end,” he said. “It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104891406
However, two days after declaring that Nelson Mandela “makes me want to be a better man”, Barack Obama authorised a drone strike that killed 17 people in Yemen. It was a wedding party. It was not the first drone strike to kill innocents heading for a wedding, nor was it the first strike authorised by Mr Obama. We say authorised because it has been acknowledged by the US government that Barack Obama personally approves a kill list of suspected terrorists in America’s war on terror. For the avoidance of doubt we quote the reputable New York Times, who themselves quote his national security advisor on the issue: “Mr Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.”
The Americans like a strong man as long as his name is not Putin.
The New York Times continues, “he is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/29/world/obamas-leadership-in-war-on-al-qaeda.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
Tether? So much for “the interests that we share as human beings”, such as innocent before proven guilty, fair trail and the rule of law. American lives were at stake and that meant everyone else was a child of a lesser God. Did we mention that Barack Obama is a lawyer?
Barack Obama loves to lecture African leaders and has done so on several occasions. The BBC reminds us of some of his remarks: “It is easy to point fingers, and to pin the blame for these problems on others. Yes, a colonial map that made little sense bred conflict, and the West has often approached Africa as a patron, rather than a partner. But the West is not responsible for the destruction of the Zimbabwean economy over the last decade, or wars in which children are enlisted as combatants.”
Mr Obama, a learned man, chooses to ignore the existence of the Zimbabwe Democracy Recovery Act (ZIDERA) instituted to punish Robert Mugabe for daring to take land from former colonisers and give it back to his people. Obama did not enact the law but it was disingenuous of him to pretend not to know the devastating effect it has had on the Zimbabwean economy. That is not our argument however. Let’s take another Presidential excerpt from a speech, this time in Ghana before we make our point.
“Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions,” he declared to applause. Obama said he had instructed his administration to put a greater focus on corruption in its annual human rights reports.
Obama is happy to condemn Robert Mugabe for being a strong man but not American allies in Rwanda’s Paul Kagame who the United Nations has fingered as being the sponsor of the M23 rebels in the DRC war and who dispatches assassins to go after dissenting voices in exile in countries like South Africa. Al Jazeera has reported that “international human rights groups say M23 fighters have been responsible for widespread war crimes, including summary executions, rapes, and the forced recruitment of children.” Then there is the small matter of the military coup in Egypt in which double the number of people killed in election violence in a year in Zimbabwe, were killed in less than a week in Cairo alone. The strong men of Egypt have not been as strongly censured in word and deed as Robert Mugabe by Mr Obama have they? In fact Obama is seeking to increase military support to Rwanda this fiscal year.
Mr Obama has a gleaming smile that wants to sell us laptops and ipads while we cheer on his every word mesmerised by his undoubted oratory skill. The world has changed though. We are not looking for soaring oratory, nor are we impressed with Nelson Mandela quotes. We are looking for proof of the change we can believe in and we have not seen it at all unless of course you mean chaos in Libya and hundreds of innocent lives lost to drone attacks. BD